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Thursday, 6 September, 2001, 13:08 GMT 14:08 UK
Security breach in exams blunder
exam candidates
The exams body investigated the mistake
Senior managers in Northern Ireland's examination board have told the assembly's education committee that mistakes made in this year's exams results were not caused by human error.

The Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (CCEA) revealed last month that the results of nearly 1,000 GCSE home economics results were wrong.

The council presented the assembly committee with an interim report of their investigation into the issue on Thursday.

Speaking at Parliament Buildings, CCEA chief executive Gavin Boyd said: "I want to re-assure our elected representatives and the broader community that every member of our staff is acutely aware of the hurt caused by this incident.

A review of security is under way and everyone can be assured that any improvements in security and controls identified will be implemented immediately

Gavin Boyd CCEA

"They know that in this business a success rate of 99.5% is not enough."

When the correct results were given out, 140 pupils raised their GSCE home economics grade from an A to an A*, but the grades of about 800 pupils dropped.

The CCEA said the grade boundaries for AS levels instead of GCSE had been used by mistake.

It is not yet known how the mistake was made but the council has not ruled out a breach of computer security from either inside or outside the examination body.

"Our investigation shows that simple human error was highly unlikely. Rigorous systems checks are being undertaken, but have not yet revealed any errors," said Mr Boyd.

Gavin Boyd CCEA chief executive
Gavin Boyd: "It is highly unlikely human error was to blame"
"A review of security is also under way and everyone can be assured that any improvements in security and controls identified will be implemented immediately."

The main findings of the inquiry team so far have shown that sometime between the close of business on Friday 27 July and approximately 0930 BST on Monday 30 July, marks and grades for the GCSE papers, which were verified by the CCEA computer system, were changed.

Further tests are now being carried out and a full review of computer security at CCEA is under way.

However, irregular or illegal interference with the system has not been ruled out.

Two computer security companies are currently investigating the incident.

Danny Kennedy MLA
Danny Kennedy: Education committee chairman

Mr Boyd said the errors could not have been an accident and that somebody did something they should not have done.

However, he said he did not want to speculate on the possibility that someone with a grudge against the CCEA may have deliberately sabotaged the grades.

Members of the education committee criticised the CCEA saying it was perceived as "a slap dash organisation with a credibility problem".

Committee chairman Danny Kennedy said the perception of the CCEA was that it had not enjoyed a wonderful reputation in the past.

"I think I am satisfied that steps have been taken to address that.

"That is ongoing work and it is important for CCEA to continue with that."

Letters of apology were sent to all candidates affected by the re-issue of grades, which blamed human error for the blunder.

See also:

21 Aug 01 | Northern Ireland
Exams body 'sorry' over grading error
21 Aug 01 | Northern Ireland
Red letter day for GCSE students
30 Mar 01 | Education
Concern over new A-level results
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