Exam papers recalled after deliveries are lost and stolen

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The Independent Online

Nearly 500,000 GCSE exams have been recalled after question papers were stolen from one delivery van and lost from another.

Nearly 500,000 GCSE exams have been recalled after question papers were stolen from one delivery van and lost from another.

Exams for science, history and French GCSEs set by England's largest exam board, the AQA, must now be replaced with new papers after the security breach, a spokesman said. The now-defunct papers will be collected and new sets of questions sent to schools before the exams are taken next month.

The first incident was theft of a Parcelforce van carrying AQA GCSE question papers in a routine delivery to schools and colleges. The second involved the "inadvertent spillage" of confidential examination material from a second Parcelforce van.

A spokesman for the AQA exam board said: "The original papers are being recalled because we are concerned that with the theft and the spillage there might have been a breach of security. What we are doing is making sure there is no risk to the integrity of the examination. We are collecting the originals and we will be sending out replacement papers. They have been through all the normal processes; they are not emergency papers. They are of the same standard and quality."

Both incidents happened last week. The board is still in contact with Parcelforce and has yet to establish exactly what happened. "These matters are entirely outside our control," the spokesman added. "Cases of this kind are extremely serious and extremely concerning."

The UK exam system depends on papers being physically transported to and from schools. But there have been a series of thefts and losses that have afflicted high-stakes GCSE and A-level exams. Last year, papers for English literature, geography, German and Spanish GCSEs were stolen at knifepoint from a Parcelforce van. They were found in a south London street. The exam board, again AQA, had to issue new papers for 430,000 students in around 3,000 schools.

Ken Boston, the chief executive of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority who advises the Government on exams, has repeatedly warned ministers that the UK exams system could be vulnerable to delays and security breaches because it relies on papers being physically transported around the country.

Mr Boston said the persistent losses and thefts of papers could be prevented if exams were transmitted electronically.