SCHOOLS are facing spot-checks on exam coursework as part of moves to clamp down on improper coaching of pupils.

The Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) said it intended to hold a review of procedures which could include a greater number of school visits.

Yesterday, The Herald revealed record numbers of teachers are being investigated over allegations they provided improper levels of coaching to help pupils pass vital qualifications.

Dr Janet Brown, chief executive of the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA), said evidence had emerged of a growing number of potential 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.

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.

Ms Brown defended the use of coursework as a crucial part of qualifications, but said the exam body would act to improve its procedures for ensuring standards were uniform and that guidelines were being followed.

She said: "This evidence indicates that SQA must enhance its quality assurance approach.

"Internal assessment is still the most appropriate approach for many qualifications and for the learners that undertake them 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.”

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.

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."

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.