Exam board launches investigation after Maths A-level paper is leaked online for third year in a row

Pearson said that a total of 29 candidates have been disqualified over the two leaks
Pearson said that a total of 29 candidates have been disqualified over the two leaks

An exam board has launched an investigation after a Maths A-level paper was leaked online for the third year in a row.

Edexcel, which is owned by Pearson, confirmed that “blacked out images” of two exam questions had been circulating on social media ahead of Friday's exam.

Pictures of two questions were posted from a Twitter account - which has since been deleted - the day before the exam, with the details scribbled out. An accompanying message invited students to get in touch via a direct message “if you want tomorrow’s A-level maths, stats and mechanics paper 3 exam”.

Others claimed that the entire paper had been leaked and was circulating in group message conversations on the morning of the exam.

This is the third consecutive year that questions from Edexcel’s Maths A-level papers have surfaced online ahead of the exam.

Police launched an investigation last summer after questions were reportedly circulating online where they were being auctioned off for hundreds of pounds the night before around 50,000 students sat the A-level exam.

In 2017, last minute changes were made to the exam paper at some schools after it emerged that questions had been disseminated ahead of the exam.

Pearson said that a total of 29 candidates have been disqualified over the two leaks, and police investigating the 2017 breach have now passed a file to prosecutors.

This is the first cohort of pupils to take the reformed Maths A-level

A possible criminal offence would be theft, if the exam paper had been improperly obtained from the exam board. 

Earlier this year, Pearson announced that some of this summer’s exam papers will be micro- in an attempt to combat online leaks.

Under the new security initiative, micro-chips were inserted into packs of A-level and GCSE questions, allowing Pearson to track the time, date and location of an exam pack if it is opened prematurely.

This means that the school or exam centre in question can immediately be alerted to the breach, which should make it easier for officials to swiftly identify the perpetrator and contain any potential leak before information is circulated more widely.  

Some of this summer's A-level Maths papers were micro-chipped, The Daily Telegraph understands, but it is unclear whether the questions that were were leaked online had been included in the pilot. 

Roughly 60,000 students took EdExcel’s Maths A-level, which consisted of three exam papers spread over last week and this week.    

This is the first cohort of pupils to take the reformed Maths A-level, which was designed to be more challenging and better prepare sixth form students for university.

Pupils set up a petition to demand “some form of compensation” or “special consideration” after finding the exam “extremely difficult and unreasonable”.

The petition, which by Friday night had accrued over 11,000 signatures, complained that the questions on the exam board Edexcel’s Maths A-level papers were “unlike any specimen, past or textbook questions”.

A separate petition claimed that students’ hopes of attending university have been “shattered” thanks to the Maths exams.

But Pearson, which owns the exam board, said that students should be “reassured” that grade boundaries are set depending on the difficulty of each exam.

They explained that this “ensures a fair system, so that students of the same ability will be awarded the same grade in different years, even if there are differences in the demand of papers”.

Ofqual, the exams watchdog, uses a system called “comparable outcomes” to ensure that roughly the same proportion of pupils get similar grades each year, and those who are the first to take the new, reformed courses are not at a disadvantage compared to other cohorts. 

A Pearson spokesman said: “We are aware that an individual circulated blacked out images of two exam questions on social media ahead of [Friday’s] A-level maths exam. We are investigating the source of this.

“All students should be reassured we have well-established processes in place to ensure no-one will be advantaged or disadvantaged, and this paper will not have to be resat.”

An Ofqual spokesperson said they are aware of “allegations of malpractice or wrongdoing in relation to Edexcel’s maths paper” and are working with Pearson to establish the facts.