A teacher working for one of the Government’s favourite academy chains re-wrote the coursework of all her 69 pupils for a unit of the BTec science exam last summer in a bid to improve their grades.
The incident involving the teacher at the Falconwood Academy in Bexley, south London – part of the Harris Academy Federation – came to light when a whistleblower at the school complained to the exam board, Edexcel.
Investigations by both Edexcel and the school found the complaint was justified and the teacher was suspended pending a disciplinary hearing. She has since resigned.
Falconwood Academy is one of 27 schools run by the Harris Federation, the organisation set up by multimillionaire Lord Harris of Peckham, who has donated significant sums to the Tory party after making more than £200m from his Carpetright business.
The federation has taken over as sponsor of some of the worst-performing schools in London as part of Michael Gove’s enforced “academisation” programme. It first started running schools in 1990.
The Harris Federation currently employs around 2,000 staff and teaches more than 20,000 pupils. Of its 27 academies, 17 are secondary schools, nine are primaries and one is a pupil referral unit. All are in London, although the federation has turned down requests to sponsor schools over a wider area because it believes its strength is in turning round schools in the capital.
“This is the first time in all that stretch we’ve had anything like this,” said Sir Daniel Moynihan, the federation’s chief executive, who is a former headteacher of the first school it established.
“We are determined that it won’t happen again. The bottom line is that there was a single individual who was at best misguided in her desire to get students over the finishing line. The coursework submitted for a whole group of students wasn’t their own.
“We’re disappointed because this is a school we have taken from 17 per cent [getting five A* to C grades including maths and English] to 61 per cent, despite it being surrounded by four selective grammar schools.”
Falconwood Academy was opened by the federation five years ago and replaced a failing comprehensive school.
Ministers will see the incident as a vindication of their plans to eradicate coursework – particularly in GCSE exams – over fears that it could lead to plagiarism, parents doing the coursework for their children and teachers bumping up their own pupils’ marks. From 2017, grades will start to depend almost entirely on performance in end-of-course examinations.
The school is now writing to parents to explain what has happened and to offer pupils the chance to take the coursework again. The incident did not have any impact on the school’s league-table ranking as all the pupils involved obtained five A* to C grade passes in other subjects. It is also understood it has not affected the pupils’ further education, sixth-form or employment options.
Earlier this summer, another of the Harris Federation’s academies was the subject of an investigation by exams regulator Ofqual after a whistleblower complained that its teachers had inflated pupils’ coursework in the speaking and listening section of their GCSE English examination.
However, the Harris Academy Beckenham has been told that investigations have completely exonerated it over the allegation.
In a letter to the school, the AQA exam board – which was responsible for setting the coursework and carried out the investigation – has said that “there was nothing heard… that provided any evidence of malpractice”.
Improved marks in the speaking and listening section of the exam were “justified” by the school’s own strategy to improve oracy, the AQA said.