Questions from an entire Edexcel A-level maths paper were circulated on social media before the exam this year, rather than just a small extract as was originally thought, Pearson has admitted.
Edexcel’s parent company also confirmed that 78 students who sat the exam are having their results withheld while it investigates the leak, which has so far led to the arrests of two people.
Two questions from the A-level maths 3 paper were posted and circulated on Twitter before the exam was sat on June 14, but Pearson has today said its investigations team later discovered that questions from the entire paper had also been circulated within “closed social media networks”.
Although it is not clear how many students had access to these closed social media networks, Pearson’s responsible officer Derek Richardson said in a video statement today that the leak had been traced to one specific centre, which is believed to be in London.
Richardson also accepted there was “speculation that exposure was broader” across social media networks, but said Pearson must base judgements on this issue “on hard evidence rather than speculation”.
“I’d like to reassure you that we detected the breach quickly, took the appropriate action and by reviewing all the relevant exam papers in detail we have ensured that all students who took the exam according to our rules will be issued a fair grade that reflects their work.”
He said Pearson was able to examine the phones of those interviewed about the leak, and police seized equipment from two people who were subsequently arrested. He added that Pearson hopes the police enquiry “will end in a criminal prosecution” for those responsible for the leak.
Hayley White, Pearson’s UK assessment director, defended the decision not to discount the two questions that were widely circulated on Twitter.
“Through our various levels of analysis we found that student performance on these questions was as expected and it wouldn’t be fair to disadvantage everyone by removing them,” she said.
“In the limited instances where we discovered anomalies – for example students scoring particularly well on these questions versus the rest of the paper – we have taken these students out of any further statistical analysis that we used to determine the grade boundaries and we’ve had a closer look at their performance.”
This year marked the third year in a row that questions from an Edexcel maths paper have been leaked online before the exam, despite Pearson’s efforts to strengthen its security process including introducing microchips to track when schools receive the papers.
This summer, Edexcel also had to replace a further maths A-level paper after it emerged a packet containing copies of the exam had been opened at the same school which is being investigated over the maths 3 paper. Another police investigation has been opened into an alleged leak of AQA’s GCSE religious studies exam paper, sat by pupils in May.
White also responded to concerns that the Edexcel maths paper 2 was too difficult.
She said independent experts had “confirmed that paper 2 was a fair and valid exam” but admitted that “the first two questions were more challenging than we would typically expect initial questions to be”.
“Going forward, we will make adjustments to our papers to improve the experience students have when sitting our exams.”