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Durban - Education officials say they have “clear evidence” that the entire matric class at an Ndwedwe high school cheated by “group copying” in some of their exams last year.

“They were obviously assisted … in many instances where independent objective thinking was required, they came up with a common incorrect answer.

“In other instances they would get the formula and principle wrong but, surprisingly, came up with a correct product at the end,” said Dr Rufus Poliah, a chief director in the Department of Basic Education.

He was responding for the national and provincial education ministers to a court bid by the 139 pupils from Mashiyamahle High School to force the department to release their matric results.

Their urgent application, launched in the Durban High Court last month, was adjourned until last week for opposing affidavits to be filed, but education officials missed the deadline.

The attorney acting for the pupils, J Surju, said he had now received an unsigned, e-mailed response – which did not include any of the annexures referred to – and he would still insist they seek condonation from the court for their tardiness.

“I am taking instructions on the contents thereof from my clients and will file and serve a replying affidavit and then set the matter down for hearing,” he told The Mercury on Tuesday.

In their application, the pupils insist they did not cheat and say there is no evidence against them.

They accuse the department of unlawfully withholding their results, preventing them from getting on with their lives, saying they had been promised that the results of the investigation would be known at the end of January.

In his affidavit, Poliah referred to a “full list of irregularities” relating to group copying in an annexure which has not been provided to the students or their lawyer.

But he specifically mentioned two examples: in the maths paper where candidates made different mistakes during the steps but all arrived at the same final answer, and in the accounting paper where they all obtained an answer of R18 600 by subtracting R344 000 from R362 600 when the question related to R352 600, so the correct answer was R8 600.

Poliah said education officials had first learnt of the alleged copying before the start of exams through a tip-off from a whistle-blower, with suggestions of collusion between the principal, invigilators and pupils.

“A decision was taken to place a monitor at the school, but with exams being written in more than one classroom, it would have been impossible for proper monitoring.

“We then had to do a close and intense investigation into the entire results of all candidates.

“We also had to do similar investigations at 22 other schools in the province also implicated in mass copying.”

He said all the pupils had been summoned to interviews as part of the investigations pending disciplinary hearings.

However, those hearings were delayed because those implicated were given a chance to write supplementary examinations and some had taken up the offer.

“Until the learners are found to be innocent, we have no choice but to withhold their results,” Poliah said.

The Mercury