Regulating GCSEs, AS and A levels: guide for schools and colleges

Malpractice, cheating and exam fraud

What exam boards must do to prevent it, and how to report it

Malpractice (including cheating and exam fraud) can affect both qualification standards and confidence in qualifications. It undermines the hard work of students, teachers, schools and colleges, and we take it very seriously.

Even if there is no deliberate wrong doing, poor practice or maladministration (for example, giving students the wrong exam papers) can also result in students being seriously disadvantaged.

What exam boards must do

Our rules for exam boards reflect how serious malpractice and maladministration can be. We require exam boards to do all they can to prevent malpractice and maladministration when developing, delivering and awarding regulated qualifications. We also require exam boards to:

  • investigate plausible suspicions or allegations to find out whether malpractice or maladministration has happened
  • when they become aware of possible malpractice or maladministration, do all they can to prevent (or if that is not possible, minimise):
    • any unfair impact on students (both those affected directly by any malpractice, and students more widely)
    • any adverse impact on: their ability to develop, deliver and award the qualification, the qualification standard, or public confidence in qualifications
  • have (and comply with) written procedures for investigating malpractice and maladministration
  • make sure investigators have no personal interest in the outcome of their investigations
  • do all they can to keep schools’ and colleges’ arrangements for preventing and investigating malpractice and maladministration under review
  • provide (on request) guidance to schools and colleges about how best to prevent, investigate and deal with malpractice and maladministration
  • if malpractice or maladministration is found, do all they can to stop it happening again, and take proportionate action against those responsible
  • inform schools, colleges and other exam boards that may be affected by any malpractice or maladministration

Exam board inspections

Exam boards check that schools and colleges are following their instructions, including through visits carried out by JCQ’s centre inspection service. We require exam boards to have a sanctions policy that they apply when a school or college is found to have breached its requirements. Possible sanctions include additional monitoring visits, the deployment of exam board invigilators and stopping a school or college offering some or all of its qualifications. The JCQ publishes guidance setting out how exam boards investigate potential malpractice and the sanctions they may impose when malpractice is confirmed.

We will not normally be involved with the investigation. If a school or college is dissatisfied with the way an exam board has conducted such an investigation or with any sanctions applied it should complain or appeal to the exam board. We will usually only consider a complaint once the exam board’s own complaints and appeals procedures have been exhausted.

The role of schools and colleges

Schools and colleges have an important role to play in tackling malpractice.

Exam boards rightly expect schools and colleges to take malpractice, and the risk of malpractice, seriously. They expect schools and colleges to have proper processes in place for investigating and dealing with allegations of malpractice. Exam boards will have their own rules for when and how exams and other assessments are conducted which schools and colleges must follow. Any breach of these rules can undermine the fair conduct of the assessments and the fair award of the qualifications and can result in the assessed work being rejected, the school or college being sanctioned by the exam board or both.

Similarly, schools and colleges must also comply with the instructions they are given by their exam boards to reduce the risk of errors and maladministration, such as having 2 people present when exam papers are opened.

Reporting malpractice or maladministration

Exam boards, schools and colleges (and those working for them) should always report any evidence or suspicions of malpractice. Equally, any errors or maladministration incidents should be reported as soon as they are discovered.

Employees of exam boards, schools and colleges should normally raise any concerns with their employer first.

Concerns can also be reported to us under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998. This is often known as whistleblowing. In certain circumstances, this can provide protection when a person discloses concerns about practice where they work.

For more information about whistleblowing:

We will investigate concerns about malpractice or maladministration within exam boards, but will normally ask the appropriate exam board(s) to investigate concerns about schools and colleges.

If we are not satisfied that an exam board is properly investigating suspicions or allegations of malpractice or maladministration we may require it to take particular steps to do so. We may also require it to impose particular sanctions on those responsible for the malpractice or maladministration.