CEO Message - April 2023: The importance of reporting malpractice

The NAEO receives several requests each month from members seeking advice and guidance over the reporting of malpractice. In particular, this relates to instances of malpractice which their head of centre is reluctant, or refuses, to report by the centre to the relevant awarding body/bodies, and include such instances as:

  • The failure to report low-level candidate disruption in the examination room
  • A failure to report invigilator malpractice – particularly when this is as a result of inadequately trained invigilators
  • The special educational needs co-ordinator not being aware of JCQ regulations and subsequently engaging in malpractice when identifying/assessing/awarding/facilitating access arrangements
  • Failing to receive, store and log confidential examination materials in line with JCQ regulations 
  • Failing to ensure that specific exam-related policies/processes are in place (e.g. a whistleblowing policy relating to the management, administration and conducting of examinations, adequate contingency planning)

Head of centre declaration

Even if a failure to report malpractice is due to unawareness of the regulations, this unintentional infringement of the regulations is not an acceptable reason for a head of centre not to report an instance of malpractice. Each October, all heads of centres are required to complete an annual declaration to confirm that their centre is/will be adhering to the latest version of the regulations and guidelines, which include clear instructions (contained within the Suspected Malpractice: Policies and Procedures publication) on what constitutes malpractice and maladministration, and how this must be dealt with.

JCQ regulations

The regulations clearly state that the head of centre is the individual who is accountable to the awarding bodies for ensuring that their centre is always compliant with the published JCQ regulations and awarding body requirements to ensure the security and integrity of the examinations/assessments.

This includes the contents within JCQ’s Suspected Malpractice: Policies and Procedures publication (section 2) which clearly states that:

Where an allegation of malpractice is made against a head of centre, the responsibilities set out in this document as applying to the head of centre shall be read as applying to such other person nominated to gather information by the relevant awarding body, such as the Chair of Governors’.

JCQ regulations also clearly detail the responsibilities of the head of centre in dealing with instances of malpractice which state that the head of centre must report all alleged, suspected or actual incidents of malpractice involving candidates, teachers, invigilators or other administrative staff to the relevant awarding body/bodies (the only exception to this is candidate malpractice discovered in controlled assessments, coursework or non-examination assessment before the authentication forms have been signed by the candidate). A failure to report malpractice is in itself malpractice and may result in sanctions being applied against the head of centre and/or the centre.

Exams officers and invigilators – reporting malpractice

JCQ guidance for centre staff details what action should be taken when suspected malpractice in examinations and assessments takes place.

Exams office staff – including invigilators - who witness malpractice should act upon it in line with the regulations as set out in JCQ’s Suspected Malpractice document. This requires their centre to refer instances of malpractice to the appropriate awarding body, and if they fail to do so, the exams officers is also able to refer the incident – and any concerns they may have - to the relevant awarding body.

Retaliation for reporting malpractice

If a member of staff is concerned about retaliation for reporting suspected malpractice, they  should be aware of two documentations which offer protection.

The Public Interest Disclosure Act (PIDA) offers legal protection from being dismissed or penalised for raising certain serious concerns (“blowing the whistle”). Given the importance of the integrity of the qualifications system, suspected malpractice is likely to be a serious concern.

Since September 2022, JCQ regulations have required centres to have a whistleblowing policy in place in relation to examinations and assessments (General Regulations for Approved Centres, section 5.3x). The steps detailed in this policy should also be followed if there are any concerns in reporting instances of malpractice.

As a ‘last resort’, if exams office staff do not feel safe raising the matter within the centre, or have done so and are concerned that no action has been taken, they should consider making their disclosure to a “prescribed person” – which includes Ofqual and Qualifications Wales (the regulators in England and Wales respectively).

There can be no denying that having to report your centre for a failure to report malpractice is a difficult situation for any exams officer to deal with. However, if an exams officer does not take the appropriate action, then they themselves could be subject to an accusation of malpractice.

Minimising malpractice

Consequently, the aim for all centres must be to minimise instances of malpractice in the first instance. This can be achieved by taking the following steps:

  • Ensure that relevant members of the senior leadership team (e.g, the exams officers’ line manager) and/or the head of centre have read the JCQ publications, and are aware of the regulations, requirements and their repsonsibilities
  • Hold candidate briefings at the start of each academic year – in addition to prior to an examination series – for key stage 4 and 5 students which highlight the regulations including what constitutes malpractice and indicative sanctions
  • Utilise at least one series of mock exams/internal tests to increase familiarisation with exam regulations


If an exams officer is faced by a situation within their centre where a case of malpractice is not being reported in line with JCQ regulations, they should:

  • Stress your role and responsibilities in relation to upholding the integrity and security of examinations, and ensuring a level playing field, and why this requires you to report all cases of malpractice
  • Stress the consequences upon the centre and the head of centre/senior leaders of not reporting malpractice to the relevant awarding body/bodies
  • Seek advice from JCQ or the relevant awarding body/bodies and, if appropriate, share this with the relevant senior leader

In the coming months, with the launch of the Exams Officer Professional Standards, exams officers will be encouraged/expected to commit to and be responsible for ‘upholding the integrity and security of the examination system within their centre’ by signing a ‘Values and attributes statement’ on an annual basis. This will ‘oblige’ all exams officers to report instances of malpractice within their centre – anything else will be an infringement of the values and attributes which every exams officer is expected to display.

It is not acceptable for centres to deal internally with instances of malpractice which take place during written timetabled/formal examinations. Heads of centre and senior leaders must understand that it is not an option whether instances of malpractice are reported to the relevant awarding body/bodies….failure to do so is, in itself, classified as malpractice and the consequences can be very severe on both the centre and the head of centre.


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