Ofqual ‘pleased’ with ‘small’ number of penalties issued for cheating in vocational exams last year

More than 1,300 penalties were issued for cheating in vocational and technical qualifications (VTQs) in 2019/20 – with the majority handed out for plagiarism as more students took internal assessments due to Covid-19.

But the exams regulator Ofqual, which published the figures today, says it is “pleased” with the overall number because it is “small” in relation the one million VTQ certificates that were awarded in the same year.

Ofqual gathered the data from 40 awarding organisations and said it has decided not to compare the figures with those for previous years, which saw much higher cases of malpractice, due to the “exceptional impact” of coronavirus.

When the pandemic struck, the regulator decided that VTQs should either received a centre-assessed grade (CAG), modified assessments or be delayed.

FE Week has pulled out the main findings from today’s report…


Most penalties issued for student plagiarism

The 2019/20 figures show that awarding organisations issued 1,381 penalties, with 78 per cent going to students, followed by 13 per cent to staff and 9 per cent to individual colleges, schools or training providers.

Of the 1,074 penalties issued to students, the most common type was for plagiarism and accounted for 35 per cent.

Ofqual said the large proportion plagiarism likely reflects the fact that more students took internal, coursework-based, assessments in VTQs last year.

The number of penalties was highest in paper-based exams (73 per cent), followed by online exams (19 per cent) and lastly, performance-based tasks (7 per cent).

The regulator added that while “attempt to influence teachers’ judgements on centre assessment grades and/or rank order” was added as an additional type of offence for summer 2020 assessments, no penalties were issued for this offence.


Most students caught using phones or other devices lost marks

The most common type of penalty issued to students in 2019/20 was a “warning”, accounting for 41 per cent, closely followed by a “loss of marks” which accounted for 36 per cent, and then “loss of aggregation or certificate opportunity” accounting for 22 per cent.

Ofqual’s data shows that a “loss of marks” was the most common type of penalty when a student was found with mobile phones or other communication devices. A “loss of aggregation or certification opportunity” was most common for “collusion”.


Fewer than five penalties for dishonest CAGs

Individual colleges, schools and training providers were issued with 130 penalties last year.

The largest proportion of penalties issued to centres were for “maladministration”, followed by “improper assistance to candidates” which accounted for 58 per cent and 17 per cent respectively.

Five categories of malpractice were added specifically for summer 2020: bias or discrimination, centre released CAGs and/or rank orders before the issue of results, late entry for learners, CAGs that do not honestly and fairly represent what learners would have achieved in their assessments, and a failure to accurately report grades of completed units for vocational qualifications.

Only the offence “centre submitted CAGs that do not honestly and fairly represent what learners would have achieved in their assessments” had penalties reported against it, with fewer than five issued.


No centre staff penalised for any new offences

A total of 177 penalties were issued to staff. The most common type of malpractice was “maladministration”, such as “failing to adhere to the regulations regarding the conduct of assessments”, with 38 per cent.

“Improper assistance to candidates” was the second most common staff offence type with 32 per cent of penalties.

However, of the five new categories of malpractice added this year, no penalties were reported against staff for these offences.

The most common type of penalty issued was a written warning or extra training, both of which accounted for 40 per cent.

Suspensions or disbarments accounted for 13 per cent of the penalties issued to staff.


Ofqual ‘pleased’ with overall number of penalties

Catherine Large, Ofqual’s executive director for vocational and technical qualifications, said: “These qualifications really matter. They are the passport to a job or more training, so it’s important that we trust their value.

“That is why we require awarding organisations to have procedures in place to prevent, investigate and act when they find malpractice. I am pleased that the number of penalties is small in relation to the one million or so VTQs that were awarded in 2019 to 2020.”


Awarding bodies ‘stand for the highest standards’

Responding to today’s data, Federation of Awarding Bodies chief executive Tom Bewick said: “Members of FAB stand for the highest standards in the regulatory approach to awarding and assessment of VTQs.

“While we should welcome the relatively small number of malpractice cases identified by Ofqual, we would also like to reiterate, on the back of this announcement, why it is important we maintain a strong single regulator for VTQs in England.

“And that we don’t see a cumbersome new ‘dual regulatory model’ emerging, as we’re seeing in the current Skills Bill, with the Institute or Apprenticeships and Technical Education also being given a regulatory role. In future, public confidence and the integrity of the value of VTQs will depend more than ever on a simplified, effective and strong unitary regulator of qualifications.”

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