Cambridge Exams: New Draconian Security Measures

by Andrew Leech

After the embarrassment last December, when Antenna TV aired the questions of a Proficiency exam paper, just minutes after candidates started writing, Cambridge ESOL knew it had to drastically upgrade its security; particularly since those who removed the papers still remain unknown, despite investigation at the highest level. Now, 3 months later, Cambridge unveil a new package encapsulating the highest security arrangements ever given any exam.

In a communique to the British Council and the 15 Independent Centres, last week, Mike Milanovic (CEO, Cambridge ESOL) declared that "after extensive negotiations between Greek and British governments, we have agreed on a formula by which papers will be transferred from Cambridge to Greece by the SAS (British Security forces) and the RAF (Royal Air Force). To further enhance security measures no civilian airport will be used; instead, the papers will leave an unspecified UK military airport and be flown to the Greek top security base of Tanagra a few days before the examination dates. There they will be handed over to a regiment of LOK (Greek Security Forces) who will be responsible for both guarding, at a secret location, and personally delivering papers to centres on the day."

The Prime Minister's office confirmed there had been an agreement made on this matter, and that Mr Karamanlis (being a Cambridge Proficiency holder, himself) had followed all developments closely. To our question of whether there was any truth in the rumour that papers "would be stored in the vaults of the parliament building" there was no comment, but a secretary later referred us to the Ministry of Education for further details. There, a cautious voice explained that "what we had heard was basically true."

The question of how much the Greek military is being paid for this service, though, remains unanswered. Despite calls to various government departments, we have not been able to confirm any price being paid by Cambridge, nor to whom it would be paid. However, a source at the Tanagra base (speaking under customary anonymity) did confirm "a landing request for an RAF C130, carrying cargo listed as 'educational material,' had been granted for May."

Desmond Lauder, Director of the British Council, Greece, was more forthcoming. "I am extremely glad about the new arrangements. Their truly draconian scope makes the old security look as leaky as a sieve, by comparison" while Nigel Brazier, Director of the Hellenic British Union (probably the largest and most influential of the independent centres), pointed out "this is the kind of security we have always dreamed of. And the fact that Cambridge is paying for it means we don't need to increase exam prices." But Michael Carty (Cambridge Development Manager for Greece) seemed rather embarrassed by the whole matter. "It seems the University have told you more than I, myself, know," he drily commented and suggested we call the Cambridge ESOL press agents (Hill & Knowlton) in Kolonaki.

Most of the senior members of the language teaching community in Greece we polled agreed that the new arrangements were the best way to avoid security embarrassments similar to those faced in South America, over the years, where armed guerillas regularly seize and ransom exam papers. Many remember 2003 in Greece, where papers were quickly substituted in a suspected compromise of the FCE (Lower) and CAE (Advanced) exams, or the 1999 furore when rats (during a street cleaners' 3 week strike) ate about 20,000 FCE papers. Though the most memorable case, for most, was Volos, where a pet parrot flew through a window, took a question paper and dropped it on a teacher standing outside. He, then, promptly called out all the answers to his candidates.

(Posted April 2005)

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