The Independent Commission on Malpractice chaired by Sir John Dunford

Since its launch in July 2018, Sir John Dunford’s Independent Commission into Malpractice, has considered evidence from a wide range of educational organisations, sector leaders and government bodies. 

The Commission is encouraging responses on the nature, extent and drivers of malpractice both in the general and the vocational examinations system.

Sir John Dunford said:

“Public confidence in the integrity of the examination system is paramount and there is more that can be done to reduce malpractice.

“The Commission will make recommendations to all stakeholders in the examination system, including the government, the regulators and awarding bodies on improvements that can be made to reduce and deter malpractice.  I welcome the views of all those involved in the system to inform these outcomes.”

Commenting on the report of the Malpractice Commission, of which we were a member,

mary boustedDr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:

“The NEU is proud that the report highlights the hard work and integrity demonstrated by almost all students, exams officers and education professionals in executing a highly efficient, trustworthy and effective exams system.

“Although instances of malpractice are exceptionally small - less than 0.02% of all entries at GCSE and A-Level - it is important that we strive to eliminate them entirely, as any occurrence can lead to disproportionate mistrust and ultimately undermine the system. As such the recommendations to spread best practice and take advantage of technological advances in order to help prevent malpractice, where it does occur, are sensible.

“However, the punitive, high-stakes accountability system we have in England creates a toxic, competitive culture in which the pressure to achieve results is excessive, unnecessary and damaging to the health of all involved. When education professionals’ pay and job security is on the line, based upon inspection outcomes and exam results, it would be wrong to ignore the impacts of such a system on malpractice.

“It is also welcomed that the report highlights the vital place in the assessment system for coursework and practical assessments. Many qualifications would be unable to operate without non-exam assessment and many of those which have seen it removed have become tests of rote memorisation, rather than assessments of pupils' true skills and knowledge.

“It is too simplistic to suggest that all qualifications should be assessed entirely via exam because they are perceived to be harder to cheat on or easier to administer. Even where it is possible, assessing solely via exams reduces the opportunities for students to demonstrate what they know and can do and narrows the curriculum to that which is easiest to test.”


Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said:

“Exam cheating and other types of malpractice are rare, and the vast majority of students, teachers, exams officers and school leaders behave with the greatest integrity. But the small number of reported incidents, particularly high-profile breaches, can have a disproportionate impact on the public’s perception of the exam system. We therefore welcome the painstaking and thorough work of the commission in developing an excellent set of recommendations to further improve safeguards.

“In the longer term, we must rethink an exam system which is rooted in a pen-and-paper era that feels increasingly like an anachronism and is threatened by technologies which facilitate cheating. We need to put less emphasis on the annual ritual of subjecting young people to trial by exam and use a more nuanced range of assessment methods to support progression to future courses and careers. And we could better utilise technology to provide secure online assessment rather than scrambling to stay one step ahead of the cheaters. We need a 21st century approach to assessment which is better for students, provides a more complete picture to employers, and which has the additional benefit of being less cheatable.”

Mark Bedlow, Chair of JCQ said: 

“JCQ and its member awarding bodies recognise the hard work of Sir John and the members of his Commission in undertaking such a detailed review of the current system to guard against malpractice in the UK’s examination and assessment system.

“The Commission’s findings show that the system is robust and that very little malpractice occurs due to the diligence and professionalism of those involved.  However, the Commission has noted a number of areas for improvement of our systems to further minimise incidents of malpractice.”

Philip Wright, Director General, JCQ said:

“The Commission has emphasised the importance of reducing bureaucratic burden on Examination Officers and Heads of Centres.  This is a JCQ priority.

“The Independent Commission’s report, and our communications review, will guide JCQ’s work and ensure that our documentation is more accessible and relevant to our stakeholders.”

JCQ is considering its responses to the report and identifying ways to implement the recommendations. 

JCQ has already initiated work to:

  • Review the definition of malpractice in consultation with stakeholders in the autumn;
  • Consider a ban on all watches in examinations from the summer examinations series 2020;
  • Review JCQ communications across our activities, reporting in early autumn; and
  • Make online guidance and documentation interactive and searchable. 

JCQ will need to consider some of the recommendations against the requirements of the Equality Act, GDPR legislation and legal and technical issues in order to devise a timetable of implementation.   

JCQ will implement recommendations with sensitivity following extensive consultation with Examination Officers and other key stakeholders. 

In addition, JCQ will draw on the knowledge and expertise of our existing working groups including disability groups, teacher associations and members of the awarding bodies’ malpractice working groups.   

JCQ will issue a report in September 2020 to highlight progress on the implementation of recommendations from the Commission. 

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