Teacher let students use calculators in maths exams despite them being banned

A general view of Bridgend College's Pencoed campus
-Credit: (Image: Google)

An experienced teacher let students use calculators in maths exams on three occasions knowing it was against the rules. Robert Walker admitted it was "a free-for-all" with calculators on a desk for candidates to pick up or bring in their own.

One student at Bridgend College, who had missed his exam, asked if he could re-take it with Mr Walker in charge because "he let them cheat with calculators", a professional standards committee heard. When it was discovered exam rules were breached on three occasions all the candidates' results were declared invalid and the college launched an investigation.

The FE teacher, with 12 years experience at Bridgend College, admitted he allowed calculators to be used in non-calculator exams three times in spring 2023. He apologised to the Education Workforce Council (EWC) fitness to practise committee saying he had been going "from one calamity to the next".

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Walker told the committee he allowed calculators to be used knowing they were not permitted and "despite "my conscience screaming at me and I knew I should not be doing it". Rules saying calculators were not to be used for the Application of Number (AON) exams were clearly stated for the qualification which construction students took on screens at the college.

When it was discovered what had happened students were told their exam was void and must be retaken. That had a huge impact on them and the college with complaints from parents and loss of trust in the system, the panel heard.

The long-standing teacher said his students needed to pass AON, a City and Guilds qualification, to progress to the next level of their construction course at the college. This caused "huge pressure" to get them through and it was the first year of the qualification at the college.

Walker said he felt some students were "set up to fail" as the test was too hard for them and there was too little time for revision. But he fully admitted what he had done was wrong and told the panel: "I made the huge mistake of allowing calculator use in non-calculator assessments."

The teacher added: "My actions have fallen well short of professional standards and my own conscience – teachers are in a position of trust and integrity. I have not made excuses – there is no justification. I feel deep regret and remorse."

Walker, who has worked as self-employed maths tutor since losing his job at the college after an investigation into the matter, said he had put the career he loves at risk. He apologised to students affected, their parents, the college, and former colleagues.

"The students in my three classes have been affected hugely. Either they had to come back and retake after college or do [the exam again] in the next year of college," he told the panel.

"The students must be feeling mistrust in lecturers, the college, and education. I feel guilty they have now been told the test did not count and they had to retake it – they must feel stressed and annoyed."

The panel was told Mr Walker was aware of the requirements of the assessment. But his actions allowing students to take in calculators were not pre-planned.

"Walking in to the room there was no thought – then it was a quick reaction to the question: 'Are calculators allowed?'," he told the hearing, adding: "I can't believe how stupid I was. It was panic – it was not thought through."

Nonetheless Walker went on twice more to let calculators be used in two more exams. He said he did this because another learner "caught wind" from a friend that he'd allowed calculators and acceded to another request.

The panel, sitting remotely from June 24 to 26, found the following allegations against Walker proved. That:

  1. He allowed one or more learner(s) to use a calculator in an Application of Number examination, when he knew and/or ought to have known this was not allowed, on three separate occasions on March 29 (during exams from 11am to 12pm and/or 1pm to 2pm) and then again on March 31 in an hour-long exam on that day.

  2. His conduct in doing this was was dishonest and/or lacked integrity and taken together amounted to unacceptable professional conduct.

The commitee heard Walker was a respected maths teacher with a previous good record and unblemished career at Bridgend College. They heard various character references saying what a good maths tutor and reliable colleaague he was.

Imposing a reprimand on his registration with the EWC panel chairman Robert Newsome told the FE teacher his actions had fallen short of expectations of a registered person: "This was a serious matter. Mr Walker's behaviour was unacceptable and must not happen again," he said.

Walker will remain registered with the EWC as an FE teacher during the reprimand, which will stay on his record for two years from June 26, 2024. Walker has the right to appeal the committee's decision to the High Court within 28 days.

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