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Student penalised for opening a message

View profile for Andrew Barrowclough
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A recent article that appeared on the BBC website helps to highlight the difficulties that students often face when being accused of an act of dishonesty. The unusual situation came about when eighteen-year-old A-Level student Fabienne Ruttledge was sent three out of the four questions on a WhatsApp group chat on the morning of her exam. Apparently this issue arose as a result of a student taking the exam early.

AQA decided to disqualify her from three quarters of her sociology paper. Miss Ruttledge reiterated that a message so close to the examination was worthless to her and clearly did not impact on her exam prep but remarkably AQA refused to reverse their decision. They indicated that she should have reported the issue to a teacher immediately rather than simply ignoring the message.

Legally the actions of AQA were clearly inappropriate. Disqualification in such circumstances for a student who simply receives such an unrequested message is an extreme action to take. The entire situation raises questions as to whether students are considered by moderators to be innocent until proven guilty or whether they are always going to be on the back foot to explain themselves. It is difficult to imagine that AQA would have treated Miss Ruttledge any more favourably if she had volunteered this information to them on the morning of her examination.

Furthermore whilst the balance of probabilities is the measure of proof required for a civil offence issue in a case such as this, it is clear that the evidence against a student must be very serious to entitle an exam board to disqualify them. In addition such ‘cheating’ must surely also include an intention to obtain an advantage and as pointed out by Miss Ruttledge having this information on the day of her exam itself did not assist her.

Our education law solicitors are specialists at assisting students accused unfairly of dishonesty - if you need specialist education law advice please contact us today on 02920 291704.

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