School accused of being ‘judge and jury’ in cheating debacle

August 29, 2016

The parents of an 18-year-old student caught up in the A-level cheating allegations at Our Lady’s Grammar School in Newry claim they have been heavily let down by the school which, they say, has failed to provide adequate support for the girls involved in the exam “malpractice” incident and have instead been “both judge and jury” in the matter.

Fifteen students at the school had their A-Level result scrapped after it emerged that topics of a Sociology paper were shared on social media by a student who sat the exam two hours earlier, due to a timetable clash.

During an emotional meeting with the The Examiner, the student’s worried parents claim the school has “washed their hands” of the situation and has refused to accept any responsibility for the matter, exonerating itself of any blame regarding claims of inadequate invigilation.

The parents say they want answers as to how the leak could have happened if strict exam supervision conditions were adhered to at the school and why the girls have been labelled cheats when they allegedly received the material – which consisted of three topic headings – unsolicited, via an online student chat, less than two hours before sitting the exam.  They also say more should have been done to facilitate re-sits to allow university entry for the girls this year and slammed the school for only offering careers advice to some of the students last Thursday, after the story had emerged in the national media.  Until then they claim the girls had been given no assistance regarding their next step, even though the cheating claims had eliminated some of the students’ chances of securing university places this year.

“Our girls have been through hell, and have been treated very badly by the school from the start,” claims the teenager’s mother, who says they were only contacted by Our Lady’s on the 29th June to inform them of an alleged “malpractice” involving their daughter and that despite attempting to set up a meeting and to contact the school by phone, they received no further contact until mid-July while they were on holiday abroad.

“The school contacted us in series of texts asking us to answer a number of questions about the leaked information and urging us to reply immediately as the school’s report to the AQA was due at 11am the following morning,” the concerned mum stated.

“We were told Our Lady’s was entirely blameless in the matter and warned that the punishments were going to be very harsh. I find it hard to believe that before any evidence had been looked at we were already being told the punishments would be harsh.

“We answered the questions honestly, as we were adamant that our daughter had not cheated, having only received information she did not ask for and which was of no advantage to her anyway, just under two hours before sitting the Sociology exam.

“We are bitterly disappointed that the school will not hold their hands up and admit that they did not have correct procedures in place to prevent this happening and instead have pushed all of the blame onto these young girls without looking at the bigger picture.”

The couple told us they heard nothing back until two days before the A-level results were released when they received a letter advising them their daughter had been found guilty of malpractice.

The pupil says she has been victimised for “simply opening a group chat.” She admits that when the three line message appeared in the group chat on the morning of the exam, she and others were confused about what it meant as the online chat had been set up in March as a form of mutual study group.

The couple say a UK student who is also embroiled in the exam scandal has not paid such a heavy price for her involvement because, unlike Our Lady’s, “her school fought for her” – reportedly resulting in her original “U” grade being brought up to a “C” after remarking.

“The school have not fought for our girls at all,” added the teenager’s father who revealed he has taken legal advice and will be pursuing the matter in the courts.

“I find it unacceptable that the school were allowed to carry out the investigation into the matter.  It should have been handled independently so that the school’s responsibility for proper exam supervision and protection of students was investigated too.

The concerned father rubbished the official statement released by Our Lady’s in the wake of the A-Level crisis which highlighted “the importance of care and compassion in times of difficulty” and pledged to offer support to the young women involved.

“It’s absolutely terrible that the school would put out such a statement when they had abandoned the students until a week after they received their results,” he said.

“The girls were left in limbo, thrown to the wolves and labelled cheats with the school completely exonerating themselves of any blame.”

The devoted dad said he made the school aware last week of the anger felt by many of the parents about the school’s statement and its “abandonment” of the 15 girls. He also advised Our Lady’s that he would be pursuing the matter in court and was awaiting a response from AQA.

“I was told I shouldn’t have done that as all appeals must go directly through the school and that there was no other route but I don’t trust the school to handle any appeal and have gone over their heads. I want people to know how badly they have handled this situation.”

The family added that the school advised the students they could not return to Our Lady’s to study for the exam re-sit but could use it as an exam centre.

Stating that the parents of all 15 students affected are concerned for the mental wellbeing of their children, he said: “These girls didn’t ask for this.  Our daughter was categorised as  ‘passing or distributing exam information to others’ which carries a penalty of disqualification. The lesser charge of ‘accepting exam information without passing it on to an awarding body’ is actually what she did so she has been handed the disqualification penalty even though she did not pass on the information. I fail to see why all the girls were disqualified whether they passed on the information or not.

“To the exams board our girls are just numbers and in a case like this the school’s job was to go deeper to ascertain individual students’ roles in the leak so that AQA could adhere to the different scales of penalties handed out.  The school can cite guidelines and procedure and red tape but nothing is impossible if they are prepared to fight for their students, all of whom have unblemished records.”

When approached by The Examiner to answer a number of questions on the issue, both the AQA and Our Lady’s Grammar School declined to add any further comment.