Ofqual retreats over banning exam boards from holding seminars for teachers on A-levels and GCSEs

Teachers said the sessions were essential to continue to explain Government reforms

Exam boards will be allowed to keep holding controversial seminars for teachers on A-levels and GCSEs, after the exams regulator Ofqual reversed its decision to ban them.

The proposal to axe the forums came after evidence emerged that teachers were being leaked information about what would be in upcoming exams to help boost their school’s results. The ban was due to come into force next month.

However, the regulator has bowed to pressure from exam boards and teachers, who claimed it was essential to continue to hold the seminars to explain Government reforms to the two exams.

In future, though, examiners who have been involved in the setting of questions will be barred from attending the events to avoid a conflict of interest or inadvertent leaking of information about questions.

Glenys Stacey, Ofqual’s chief regulator, said: “Since our original decision, the full scale and pace of the programme to reform GCSEs and A-levels has become clear.

“After looking at this evidence and listening to the feedback from our recent consultation, we have decided that appropriately run seminars can still play a key role in supporting teachers to prepare their students for the new qualifications.”

The change of heart was welcomed by both exam boards and headteachers’ organisations. Andrew Hall, chief executive of AQA, the biggest exam board, said: “We were really concerned when we thought there might be a total ban, as there hadn’t been any problems with our seminars and it looked like Ofqual was going to throw the baby out with the bath water.”

Malcolm Trobe, deputy general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “This is a sensible and proportionate decision. Because a few rogue trainers broke the rules is no reason to ban what is a legitimate source of information for teachers. If there is evidence of malpractice, this should be dealt with individually. The seminars are very helpful for teachers in providing information, clarifying grey areas and giving opportunities to come together to discuss issues around exams.”

The move to overhaul the seminars came in the wake of allegations that examiners had been secretly advising teachers attending seminars on how to boost their school’s GCSE and A-level results.

In a subsequent report, Ofqual said it had found no evidence of widespread misconduct but there were “specific incidents of serious malpractice”.

Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers (NUT), said: “Teachers value exam board seminars highly, and an outright ban would have been an over-reaction that would have been damaging to teachers and ultimately to learners.

“The new proposals allow vital training to take place in ways which ought to maintain the security of the exam system and public confidence in examinations.”

New-style GCSE and A-levels, with more emphasis on exam and less on coursework assessment, will be taught from September 2015.