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Shorthand results declared null and void over ‘malpractice’ allegations

NCTJ logo Dozens of journalism students have had their shorthand exam results declared null and void over allegations of “malpractice” by their training centre.

The National Council for the Training of Journalists is set to impose sanctions on Brighton Journalist Works after an investigation by one of its regulators found the integrity of its exams had been “compromised”.

The NCTJ’s head of qualifications Lyn Jones has claimed that BJW’s shorthand tutor of introducing words into the warm-up passage used for 60 and 80 words per minute exams which subsequently featured in the exams proper.

It is understood the NCTJ became concerned about a high pass rate in those exams, which took place on Thursday 26 November, and subsequently sent a regulator to sit in on a 100wpm exam held on Friday 11 December.

The regulator determined that the exam was not read at the correct speed, and results arising from it have also been declared null and void.

One of the 47 students affected, who wants to remain anonymous, described the episode as a “shambles.”

“It has been an extremely upsetting and stressful time for all of us. To be told that our shorthand exams have not counted is nothing short of heartbreaking.” she said.

“I was looking forward to a Christmas knowing I had completed the course but now I will have to study over the holidays with no tutor, travel back to Brighton ready to sit yet another shorthand exam, and how do we know that that exam will be accepted? It’s a shambles and we want answers.”

Lyn announced the decision to annul the results of all three tests in an email sent to the students affected on Wednesday.

HTFP understand that 16 students were affected by the 100wpm decision, 20 by the 80wpm decision and 11 by the 60wpm decision.

The letter, which has been seen by HTFP, reads: “I am very sorry to inform you that the NCTJ 60wpm and 80wpm shorthand exams that took place at Brighton Journalist Works (BJW) on Thursday 26 November 2015 have been declared null and void.

“This is due to a case of malpractice by your centre which has compromised the integrity of these exams. The malpractice includes your shorthand tutor’s introduction of words into the warm-up passage used, which subsequently featured in the exam.

“BJW has been informed of the outcome of our investigation and they have been advised that they must offer you the opportunity to re-sit the exams, at no cost to you, on a suitable date in January.

“With regard to the 100wpm exam sat by many of you on Friday 11 December 2015 at BJW, I am also sorry to tell you that we have to declare the exam null and void, because the exam was not read to you at the correct speed.”

The letter continues: “Our investigations into this matter are ongoing and sanctions will be applied to the centre.

“I am really sorry about the adverse effect this has had on you as students taking the shorthand exams in good faith, and the NCTJ is doing everything it can to ensure you have the opportunity to take the exams under the correct conditions.”

The letter also contains a statement attributed to the NCTJ’s chief examiner for shorthand, Karen Ballam.

It reads: “It is our job as markers to bring to the attention of the NCTJ any issues that we are concerned about. If we think there may have been any deviations from the rules it needs to be addressed.

“The integrity of the exams and the markers cannot be compromised. Standards must be maintained to ensure that any subsequent examination is valid.

“The exams are run countrywide and it is essential that all exams are read to speed so that no unfair advantage is given to any candidate in this or any other way.”

Paula O’Shea, managing director of Brighton Journalist Works, said:  “We have been in discussions with the NCTJ and have fully supported their investigations over the recent shorthand exams.

“Having been informed of their findings late yesterday we are very disappointed as it looks like we have inadvertently breached the administrative rules of the NCTJ exam policy and our own normal high standards.

“We are taking this very seriously and will be conducting our own internal investigation and working with the NCTJ to ensure our procedures are rigorous and robust going forward.

“At the same time we are working hard to minimise the disruption caused to our students’ learning and achievement. This is very important to us.”

Added Paula:  “We have a proud track record of training students over nine years to become qualified and get good jobs in the industry. This is the first time we have had an issue of this nature.

“The students on our current fast-track NCTJ Diploma course are a really talented and able group, they have been taught fantastically well and will make great journalists.

“Our graduates have won many awards, including NCTJ Trainee News Reporter of the Year in 2015 and the Society of Editors award for Young Journalist of the Year for 2014 and 2013.”

A spokeswoman for the NCTJ said it was unable to comment further as its investigation was ongoing.


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  • December 18, 2015 at 10:46 am

    I have been on NCTJ inspection panels to this place and we all found it well-run, well-led and a good place to learn proper journalism. Students come out of there with a realistic view and proper skills for the job. Having said that, something has gone badly wrong here and I think perhaps the desire to see the students do well has got the better of things rather than an attempt to hoodwink the industry (although that might have been the effect). I always found that drafting-in a good, old-fashioned shorthand tutor to run the technical side of exams worked a treat. Miss R with a stopwatch brooked no nonsense, especially from me. I just sat back and invigilated.
    The Centre has got to work hard to climb out of this hole and I hope they do. They should throw in some shorthand sessions before the next exam and pay all exes so no student is out of pocket. I am sure they will do that.
    To the students: this is a rough-and-tumble old business you are joining and sometimes you get landed in the umbala. This is one of those occasions. It’s bad, very bad, but you are not adrift in the Med fleeing a civil war, having left everything behind. It’s a first world problem. The Centre has made a big mistake trying to bend the rules for your benefit (OK, a bit more than bending but you get my drift). You have to work your way out of it.

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  • December 18, 2015 at 12:09 pm

    Wait. So shorthand is important to the NCTJ after all?
    I’m confused.

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  • December 21, 2015 at 8:49 am

    One of the best training centres in the UK, no doubt. Mistakes happen – an off-day perhaps – but BJW’s record speaks for itself.

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  • December 22, 2015 at 12:00 am

    As a graduate of this centre I can only agree with the last comment. I found it to be professional to a fault. This sounds like a genuine and unfortunate mistake. BJW will bounce back!

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  • December 22, 2015 at 12:02 pm

    “Added Paula…”

    There – right THERE – my least favourite sentence construction and an annoying peculiarity of journalists. No one talks like that.

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  • December 27, 2015 at 11:52 pm

    Shorthand @100wpm continues to be something the news industry demands which is why NCTJ has retained it. Sounds like an unfortunate lapse. And indeed next year I understand the plan is every centre runs the same recorded dictation, standard notation and speed.

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