A-level maths cheats could face ban from exams

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Students found to have cheated using a leaked A-level maths paper could be banned from taking public exams for two years, jeopardising their chance of going to university, the examination board at the centre of a security breach said yesterday.

A police investigation has been launched after the A-level paper in pure maths, set by Edexcel, was allegedly sold to students for up to £400 before the exam.

Headteachers have demanded an urgent inquiry into how the paper, which was sat yesterday by 21,600 students at 1,316 schools, was circulated among students in west London earlier this week.

Edexcel warned that it would compare students' grades with their teachers' predictions and fail anyone suspected of cheating using the leaked papers. There would be extra checks during marking and grades would be assessed against students' prior performance on the course, the exam board said.

The one-and-a-half-hour exam went ahead yesterday after Edexcel decided that the paper had not been widely circulated and that it was too late to cancel. Inquiries are focusing on two schools or colleges in west London.

An Edexcel spokeswoman said that those who had sold the papers and students who had seen them could be stripped of their grades.

"In the absence of further evidence of the prior availability of the paper, the results will stand," she said. "Edexcel is confident that anyone who has cheated will be caught, stripped of their grade and may be debarred from exams for two years, which may affect any university entrance. This is a serious punishment, but people who cheat need to be aware of the consequences of their actions."

All schools were asked to check that the seals on the packages of exam papers had not been broken before yesterday's exam. Inspectors were sent to a sample of schools to inspect seals on exam papers. Any broken seals were reported to the exam board.

A spokesman for the Metropolitan Police said: "Kentish Town CID is investigating an allegation that exam papers have been leaked."

David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "This is clear evidence that some students will stop at nothing to get better results and secure university places under the new, highly competitive system."