RECORD numbers of teachers are being investigated for providing improper levels of coaching to help pupils pass vital qualifications, Scotland's chief examiner has warned.

Dr Janet Brown, chief executive of the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA), said evidence had emerged of a growing number of cases of teacher malpractice during the 2017/18 exam diet.

The SQA said it was too early to provide figures, but confirmed there was an increase on last year when there were 108 allegations of malpractice, 51 of which were proven. In 2016 there were just 18 proven cases.

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Typical cases involve pupils being provided with model answers, teachers giving too much feedback on work to be assessed or submitting false marks.

Where teachers are found to have breached the rules the SQA can lower candidate marks or even prevent a school or department from running future courses.

The situation has arisen after the introduction of Curriculum for Excellence which placed less of an emphasis on the final exam in qualifications such as National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher. National 4 is entirely assessed on coursework.

An over-reliance on final exams is seen as counterproductive because it encourages rote-learning and may not reflect how well a pupil performs throughout the school year. However, it means coursework supervised by teachers now counts towards more of the final mark.

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Ms Brown said: "Over the course of the 2017/18 academic session we have seen an increase in potential malpractice cases, which we are investigating.

"It is our responsibility, and in the interests of fairness and equity for all candidates, to investigate where concerns of malpractice are raised and to maintain the integrity and standards of our qualifications."

Ms Brown said the SQA intended to improve the way it monitored standards across the education system as a result of the concerns.

She added: "Internal assessment is still the most appropriate approach for many qualifications and they have high credibility in further and higher education and in the work environment. However, it is imperative that a robust national quality assurance approach is applied."

Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland teaching union, said deliberate malpractice was unacceptable, but blamed the SQA for poor communications on what was acceptable.

He said: "There have been numerous changes to assessment requirements over the past few years and teachers have complained consistently about confused and sometimes contradictory guidance from the SQA, poor levels of support generally, an absence of exemplification and weak communications.

"Perhaps rather than threatening a big stick approach, a commitment to support schools around understanding standards would be a more productive route for the SQA to adopt."

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A number of teachers have been struck off in recent years for malpractice including a history teacher from West Lothian who allowed pupils to work from completed essays in exams.

A secondary teacher from Dumfries was reprimanded after creating fake National 5 English results for almost half her pupils at a time when she was failed to cope with increasing paperwork.

Earlier this week a maths teacher from Kirkcaldy High School was criticised by teaching watchdogs for failing to mark National 5 test papers before registering them all as passes.

Updated guidance for schools and colleges on assessment conditions published last year includes practical examples on what does and does not constitute "reasonable assistance" to candidates.

Schools must not provide model answers or give pupils a specific frame work to follow in essays such as outlines, paragraph headings or section headings.