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Update from the recent JCQ and ESEG OfQual meetings:

There has been a flurry of communications recently, both verbal and electronic, asking for clarification and explanation of the announcements and regulations issued by the JCQ.  We have, this week, been fortunate to have attended meetings at which representatives of both the Awarding Bodies and the JCQ have given some background for us to share which we hope will be of considerable help.


New Inspection system:

First the announcement about the changes to the inspection system. The arrangements for inspections have not changed to any significant extent for a long time although this is not the case for the examinations themselves, nor the world in which they take place. Not unreasonably, the JCQ felt that a review of the system was overdue, therefore. The changes are the outcome of this review.


The old style general inspection was judged to be no longer suitable and that what was now needed were different types of inspections with different goals. So, for example, a preparedness inspection has been introduced. This is aimed at new centres and, to a lesser extent, new to post Examinations Officers to give guidance and to ensure all that was required was in place, with everyone concerned knowing what had to be done. This, of course, is the reason for the reference to assistance in the introduction to the announcement. 


On the theme of targeting the inspections, there are plans to have a short inspection the day before a large examination in which the inspector will complete an audit of the packets of examination papers for the following day, checking the number of them as well as the traditional confirmation that they have not been opened.  The aim with this type of inspection is not only to identify but also to have in place a deterrent to malpractice (especially as in future there will be no expectation that there will only be one inspection per examination series.


The current wave of inspections has been a pilot to trial the new system. There is, incidentally, pace what some inspectors have been saying, no requirement to have the announcement displayed anywhere.  The JCQ have received more than one report of requests of this nature and are very puzzled that they have occurred.


Collection information on anyone involved in exams:

Secondly, the new requirement for declarations of potential conflicts of interest which has occasioned much comment, not least because of the apparently wide range that it covers and also the difficulty of judging what is a close relative etc., is going to be the subject of a new FAQ response from the JCQ.  This is currently in draft form with the aim of it being issued in the near future.  It would be appropriate, therefore, for colleagues to wait (as AQA and possibly OCR are advising) until that document is issued before taking any further action on this front.


Restrictions on accommodation use:

Thirdly, the new restriction on the use of alternative venues outside the centre for taking examinations which, while it probably only affects a minority of centres, is nevertheless going to cause considerable problems for them, has been suspended for the current academic year while further discussions and consideration takes place.  In the meantime, the arrangements which operated last year will continue.


Malpractice commission:

Ofqual reported back on the feedback they had got from exams officers and other stakeholders where there was a focus on centre malpractice. This issue has been a problem for some time because Examinations Officers have found themselves caught between trying to implement the JCQ guidelines and deal with what they feel might be inappropriate centre practice.

But pointing the finger at anyone over malpractice is not a very comfortable position to be in. And what constitutes malpractice? Has someone who has accidentally opened a question paper packet by mistake; realised it straight away; resealed it with a marked note explaining why this had occurred guilty of malpractice?. The answer is, of course, yes, even though this person has not compromised the exam system and maintained total security over such a package until the exam has been completed.


Cheating is defined as a deliberate act of intent to gain an unfair advantage or to subvert the system, but malpractice is defined as a failure to follow procedures correctly.  Cheating is, therefore, malpractice, but malpractice is not necessarily cheating. Does a mobile phone going off in a bag at the back of an exam room constitute an act of malpractice? It is liable to cause the irritation and to be a disruption but is not an attempt to cheat.


Under the present practice, every single mobile phone incident has to be recorded and may result in disqualification, even though there was no intent to cheat. Because of the concern over any form of disruption, and the risk of a disqualification which some might think to be an excessive penalty in some circumstances, 97% of those who responded in an EOA  survey four years ago wanted mobile phones banned from exam halls.


Therefore, there does need to be a review of this term malpractice and how it is applied so one can focus on the real malpractice issues. The JCQ confirmed that this new Malpractice Commission would engage with every stakeholder, including the iEOA which is not part of this independent commission involved in the delivery of examinations and would address the JCQ document issue as part of its independent investigation into the rise in institutional malpractice.


Access Arrangements documentation:

In a proposal to OfQual the iEOA had highlighted the need for a review of the JCQ documentation because the SEND community felt they might fall foul of malpractice as a direct result of misinterpreting these guidelines because of a perceived lack of cohesion and clarity.


Finally, the JCQ did agree that there was a common theme of communication – particularly how, what and to whom information was to be conveyed – underlying all three of these topics (and several others too).  It agreed that this matter should be addressed as well.


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