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A Life In The Day Of Gcse Coursework Markscheme

'Our GCSE exam is so easy you don't have to teach a lot': Chief examiner suspended after being caught boasting on hidden camera

  • Edexcel chief examiner boasting geography exam was so easy she was amazed it had been approved by regulators
  • Steph Warren is third person to be suspended over affair
  • Michael Gove may abolish all the main exam boards following the claims
  • 370,000 A grades at GCSE last year compared with 114,000 in 1994

By Jason Groves for the Daily Mail and Rob Cooper
Updated: 22:21 GMT, 9 December 2011

A chief examiner has been caught on camera boasting that the GCSE exam she set was so simple she was amazed it was approved by regulators.

Steph Warren, who works for Edexcel, urged teachers to pick her company’s geography syllabus because ‘you don’t have to teach a lot’.

Ms Warren, who sets tests for thousands of students, was suspended last night after being secretly filmed making the remarks to an undercover reporter.

Caught on camera: Paul Evans told teachers he was 'cheating' by revealing exam topics in advance

She added: ‘There’s so little (in the exam), we don’t know how we got it through (the exam regulator). And I’m deadly serious about that. When I looked at it I thought, “how is this ever going to get through?”.

‘It (the course content) is a lot less, it’s a lot smaller, and that’s why a lot of people came to us,’ she said. Another Edexcel official boasted about how easy the coursework was on one of the board’s A-Level courses.

‘We let you do anything you want at A2 (the second year of A-Levels). So weak kids, you can get them through on anything really,’ she said.

Ms Warren made the comments to a Daily Telegraph reporter who claimed to be a teacher interested in adopting the exam board's syllabus in their school.

She last night became the third person to be suspended over the affair.

A spokesman for Edexcel said: 'Our examiners have a duty to uphold high academic standards at all times and like us, they should take this responsibility very seriously.

'In the video Steph Warren appears to imply that the standard of the specification is not as high as it should be.

'In light of the video the Telegraph has made available, there is strong evidence that Steph has not taken her responsibility to uphold standards seriously.

'We will investigate both this issue and the allegations regarding disclosure of future exam content, and during this, suspend her from her duties as an examiner. We will not pre-judge the outcome of any investigation.

'We take this action in the knowledge that Steph regrets the comments she made. Steph has a long and distinguished career in teaching.'

Undercover reporters attended 13 seminars run by exam boards, the Telegraph reported.

It alleged that at these seminars, teachers were 'routinely' given information about upcoming questions, words or facts that students should use to gain marks, and areas of the syllabus that teachers should focus on.

Shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg said: 'I am shocked at the footage that has been released. These revelations are of huge concern to parents, employers and universities.

'It is right that an inquiry is under way. The Government will need to act quickly and decisively on the recommendations of the inquiry by Ofqual to restore confidence in the examination system.

'We cannot allow for pupils' hard work and parents' confidence to be undermined in this way.'

Following the allegations that exam boards advised teachers how to make GCSEs and A-Levels easier to pass, Britain's main exam boards may be abolished, Government sources said.

Ministers will take ‘whatever action is necessary’ to restore public trust in the ‘discredited’ examination system.

'The current system is discredited': Gove orders inquiry into cheating row as teachers are 'coached by examiners'

They confirmed Education Secretary Michael Gove was looking at a range of options, including scrapping the four main exam boards and replacing them with a single body. ‘Nothing is off the table,’ Mr Gove said.

The move came after undercover reporters filmed seminars at which teachers were charged up to £230 a time for advice from exam board staff. Teachers were given detailed advice on forthcoming questions and how students could score higher marks.

Elsewhere, Paul Evans, a chief examiner with the WJEC exam board, was filmed telling teachers that a compulsory question in a certain exam goes through a cycle.

As teachers scribbled notes, Mr Evans added: ‘We’re cheating. We’re telling you the cycle (of the compulsory question). Probably the regulator will tell us off.’

Paul Barnes, another chief examiner at WJEC, was filmed apparently discussing next year’s GCSE history exam. Mr Barnes said: ‘We had an email some weeks ago – how much should I do on Clinton and Bush? And the advice is none. OK? There will never be a specific question.’

Both men were suspended yesterday after Mr Gove ordered the regulator Ofqual to launch an immediate inquiry. WJEC is also expected to be told to pulp its GCSE history paper.

Ian Hathaway, who led a GCSE  English course for the AQA board in Brighton, was filmed telling teachers they did not need to teach the 15 poems on the syllabus, but could get away with just ‘two or three’.

Mr Gove said the revelations ‘confirm that the current system is discredited’. He added: ‘It is crucial our exams hold their own with the best in the world.’

Spending on exam fees has almost doubled in the past seven years and now stands at more than £300million.

Critics fear that, with schools under pressure to improve results, there is an incentive on both boards and teachers to make exams easier. Some believe this is a key factor in the ‘grade inflation’ seen over the past 30 years.

Last year, there were more than 370,000 A grades at GCSE, compared to 114,000 in 1994. In the past 15 years, the proportion of pupils achieving an A at A-level has risen by 11 per cent.

Government sources yesterday suggested that creating a single board would remove the incentive to collude. A source said the idea was being actively considered, but warned there were ‘pros and cons’.

Exam boards could also be told to bring back the old system in which top grades were limited to a certain percentage of entrants after universities complained it was now hard for them to identify the most gifted.

Ministers are braced for the idea that the reforms could lead to the first fall in exam results in three decades.

A source said: ‘The important thing is to get this right and restore public trust. That may mean a dip in results, but it is the right thing to do. Instead of comparing ourselves to the past we should be comparing ourselves against our competitors abroad.’

Ofqual yesterday called in the main exam boards for crisis talks. Director Francis Thomas said boards could be stripped of the right to set certain exams or even shut down.

The watchdog’s chief executive, Glenys Stacey, said: ‘It is right that awarding bodies provide support and guidance to teachers. It is not right if they are selling privileged access to insider information.’ WJEC chief executive Gareth Pierce said the board needed to determine whether the language heard in the undercover footage was ‘appropriate and acceptable within the terms of the event’.

Ofqual is also examining textbooks and websites produced by the boards amid fears that they could also give away too much about the content of future exams.

Examiners 'caught coaching' as 'cheats' are suspended

Two history examiners have been suspended by the WJEC board following allegations they tipped off teachers about exam questions.

Teachers at a seminar were told  by Paul Evans, one of the chief examiners, that the compulsory question for section A of the exam ‘goes through a cycle’.

He said: ‘This coming summer, and there’s a slide on this later on, it’s going to be the middle bit: ‘Life in Germany 1933-39’ or for America, it will be ‘Rise and Fall of the American Economy’… so if you know what the compulsory section is you know you’ve got to teach that.’

Advice: Paul Barnes apparently told teachers they could ignore some parts of the syllabus

He admitted: ‘We’re cheating, we’re telling you the cycle.’ When one of Mr Evans’ colleagues, Paul Barnes, was asked by a teacher if he had understood that there would not be a question on Iraq or Iran, he replied: ‘Off the record, yes.’

A WJEC spokesman said: ‘Schools and colleges choose to take examinations with WJEC because of the quality of our specifications, the accessibility of our subject officers and related support services, not because they “get better results”.’


Demands for a single exam board have resurfaced over the years – and continue to divide the world of education.

As far back as 1992, the Liberal Democrats argued it was needed to allow a ‘standardised system of marking and evaluating’. The publication of a report into the 2002 A-level grading crisis further renewed calls for England’s three exam boards to merge into a single unit.

But critics claim that this would lead to a loss of flexibility and be detrimental to schools and pupils alike.

Debates over the possibility of a single exam board have raged for year in education, but are likely to surface again in light of the scandal

Dr Anthony Seldon, a political historian and master of Wellington College, yesterday claimed that the ‘worst thing that could happen’ would be to move to a single exam board.

He said: ‘That would straitjacket and frustrate teachers and stifle those inspirational people who want to educate children and not simply drill them to pass exams. We need a multiplicity of options for curricula and exams.’


Grade inflation in A-levels is now so extreme that a B in maths today would be worth little more than a U in the 1980s, research shows.

Education Secretary Michael Gove has previously warned that easy exam questions, re-sits and bite-sized modules have led to a culture of grades being boosted far too readily.

In October, citing ‘shocking’ research, he said pupils who ‘failed’ maths at A-level in 1988,  getting a U grade, would have received a B or C in 2007.

By 2011 this would have risen to a B. Overall, grades have inflated by a tenth of a grade every year for the past  20 years – two full grades over two decades, the study by the Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring at Durham University showed.

In biology, those with a borderline E/D grade in 1988 would get an easy B today. In French those with a D in 1988 would now get an A or a B. At GCSE, compared with 1996, pupils now get a full grade higher in higher maths, and almost a grade in history and French.


England’s three exam boards, AQA, Edexcel and OCR, were formed in the 1990s following a series of mergers after GCSEs were introduced by the Conservative Party.

The number of qualifications offered by these boards have since mushroomed. According to the exams watchdog, Ofqual, there were 15,400 courses listed on its ‘register of regulated qualifications’ in 2009 – more than three times the total in 2000.

Originally, a handful of boards had formed around institutions including Oxford, Cambridge, Durham and  Bristol by the early 20th century.

The Northern Universities Joint Matriculation Board was one of the biggest  and founded by universities in Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds. It dropped its ‘northern universities’ tag as it expanded.

A system that is rotten to the core


The seriousness of this scandal cannot be overstated, for what we are witnessing is the systematic betrayal, not only of successive generations of children, but also of universities and employers who can now have little faith in the credibility of their qualifications.

From exam boards to the watchdogs who are meant to guard standards, the modern taxpayer-funded education system has been exposed as rotten to the core.

It pains me to say, as a former Ofsted inspector, that the whole thrust of this episode reveals how deeply the cancer of anti-intellectualism has spread through our schools.

Betrayed: Last week it was reported that supermarkets have to send new recruits to special numeracy and literacy classes, even though these ex-pupils had passed their GCSEs

The very institutions which should be spreading knowledge, encouraging creative thinking and promoting essential skills, have been caught in an exercise of cynical, commercially-driven deceit. Their behaviour is the very opposite of the purpose of education.

This crisis over exams has come about entirely because of politics and people in the sector acting for commercial gain. During Labour’s 13 years of rule, there was insidious collusion between the exam boards and government to mislead the public into thinking that standards were on the rise.

Labour politicians could trumpet ever higher grades as evidence of the success of their spectacular increases in spending.

Meanwhile, the exam boards also had a vested interest in this mass deception; the more pupils passed, the happier the schools would be and the more schools would choose to use those exam boards. In turn, this would increase the boards’ profit and turnover. So a huge commercial racket came into being driven by greed.

 'One Edexcel chief was on an astonishing £327,000 a year, while salaries of £200,000 are common, an excess all too typical of the self-serving quango class of bosses that New Labour created'

Effectively the boards have been running a lucrative cartel, with the aim of raising productivity rather than knowledge and understanding. Though the examiners and markers themselves are often badly paid, those at the top have reaped huge rewards for this strategy.

One Edexcel chief was on an astonishing £327,000 a year, while salaries of £200,000 are common, an excess all too typical of the self-serving quango class of bosses that New Labour created.

The tragedy is that those who should have blown the whistle on this racket have instead connived in it. The qualifications watchdog Ofqual knew about the courses in which exam boards told teachers how to boost exam grades, which are publicly advertised, but did nothing.

What has been grievously lacking at Ofqual is both a sense of leadership and an understanding of education.

The current head, Glenys Stacey, is a public sector bureaucrat who follows the great British tradition of people being appointed into top jobs in areas about which they know little. Nor, up until now, have Ofsted or schools distinguished themselves by their determination to root out abuses.

Tragically for our young people, this squalid saga is part of a wider pattern of decline in British schooling. Such a failure has come about not because of any lack of resources – the excuse always favoured by the teaching unions, local education authorities and left-wing campaigners.

Mike Tomlinson: Admitted that a modern maths GCSE is no genuine indicator of an essential mastery of numeracy

Indeed, as a nation, we have been spending more than ever before on state schools, as reflected in the significant rise in teachers’ salaries and in the construction of shiny new buildings across the country.

But the increase in expenditure over the past 15 years has been accompanied by a remorseless drop in standards. Subjects have been dumbed-down, as grade-inflation has soared.

This process of dumbing-down can be seen all around us. The idea of intellectual inquiry has been replaced by a destructive obsession with ticking boxes and reaching arbitrary targets.

Exams are undoubtedly less demanding than they were in the past. Research by the University of Durham in 2008 found that A-levels overall are two grades easier than they were in 1988 and in mathematics modern A-levels are 3.5 grades easier. Shamefully, work worth an E grade 20 years ago is now worth an A.

So far have standards sunk in the state sector, in some cases, a scholarship entrance paper for a public school at the age of 14 can be harder than an A-level paper.

The deliberate campaign to drive down exam standards explains one of the fundamental paradoxes of our society: that pass rates have never been higher, yet employers and universities have never complained more bitterly about the low calibre of supposedly well-qualified students.

In fact, universities now have to run remedial classes in the basics of English and maths for those who have failed to attain the proper standard, despite having A-level qualifications.

Similarly, last week it was reported that supermarkets have to send new recruits to special numeracy and literacy classes, even though these ex-pupils had passed their GCSEs.

It was Mike Tomlinson, the former head of Ofsted, who admitted that a modern maths GCSE is no genuine indicator of an essential mastery of numeracy - which makes you wonder what the exam is for. In the same vein, the battery of vocational qualifications has been severely compromised.

It has long been an absurdity that a single National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) can count as four GCSEs, when it is barely worth one.

What we need now is wholesale reform. At least the current Coalition, unlike the last Labour government, has demonstrated a genuine willingness to clean out the stables.

In Education Secretary, Michael Gove, and the new Head of Ofsted, Sir Michael Willshaw, the Government has exactly the right people for the task but, as this scandal illustrates, it is going to be a huge job.

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skip to content

Level 1 and Level 2 Certificate in Preparation for Working Life: Short Course (4800)

Codes and references

Qualification typeAQA Certificate
Specification titleLevel 1 and Level 2 Certificate in Preparation for Working Life: Short Course
Specification code4800
QAN codes10022922
Guided Learning Hours60-80

Updates to Level 1 and Level 2 Certificate in Preparation for Working Life: Short Course (4800)

All updates

Talk to us

Work Related Learning Team

Tel: 01423 534 225