Exam cheating by mobile technology

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New figures published by Ofqual show that 4,400 pupils were caught attempting to cheat in last year's GCSEs and A-levels - a 6 per cent rise on the year before.

The most common offence was bringing banned items into exam rooms - including mobiles, MP3s, BlackBerrys and calculators. Smuggled mobiles were then used to go on the internet in search of answers. Other students were caught with information hidden on MP3 players, accessed using tiny earpieces.

As cheating becomes more sophisticated, schools are fighting back with detection equipment to trace devices being used secretly in exam rooms, which can identify any pupil attempting to text, email or surf the internet on their phones.

But pupils are also being targeted by websites openly selling "exam cheat equipment", including concealed ear-pieces to receive information.

However, Exam boards are insisting that cheating was still rare.

According to Ofqual, 4,415 penalties were handed out to GCSE and A-level students in England, Wales and Northern Ireland last summer, compared with 4,156 in 2008.

Almost half of cases related to 'unauthorised material' being taken into the exam room.
A further 1,000 candidates copied from other candidates, while 539 disturbed other candidates with disruptive behaviour.

Some 349 were penalised for writing 'offensive or obscene' comments on papers or coursework  -  up 10 per cent on 2008.

In almost half of cases of cheating, pupils lost marks.

In a third, they were merely given a warning but the remainder were disqualified from their exam.

There was also a rise in the number of school staff  -  often teachers  -  caught giving pupils too much help during exams.

Boards identified 88 cases, up from 68 the year before, which resulted in 27 written warnings and 17 staff being suspended from involvement in exams.

Some 70 schools or colleges were penalised after cheating was found to be the result of serious management failure  -  up from 52 in 2008.

Another report from Ofqual showed that around 370,000 requests were made for marks to be adjusted due to disadvantage suffered by the candidate during or shortly before the exam.
Special consideration can be granted where pupils are bereaved, but it is also awarded for headaches, stress or hayfever.

Pupils gain a maximum 5 per cent upgrade if they lost a member of their immediate family or were terminally ill.

They can earn a 1 or 2 per cent upgrade for minor ailments, 'extreme distress on day of examination' and 'anxiety for which medication has been prescribed'.

Some 97 per cent of requests for special consideration were granted  -  slightly up on last year. Around one in 50 papers sat by candidates were given extra marks.

Jim Sinclair, the director of the Joint Council for Qualifications, representing exam boards, said: 'JCQ members take a zero tolerance approach to all forms of cheating in examinations including the possession of unauthorised items such as mobile phones, iPods and MP3/4 players.'

Kathleen Tattersall, Chair of Ofqual, said: "As regulator it is our role to ensure that fair systems are in place and that these are followed correctly.

"We require that awarding bodies report annually on the number of candidates notified as having particular requirements and the number of malpractice incidents reported and investigated.

"These figures provide invaluable information regarding the examination season and allow us to check that the systems put in place to protect learners are followed."

A Department for Children, Schools and Families spokesman said: "Instances of candidate malpractice exams remain extremely rare. The proportion of penalties issued was 0.03% of the total 16 million exams sat by candidates," she said.

"We are absolutely clear that any kind of cheating in exams is unacceptable.

"Ofqual and the awarding bodies take all allegations of cheating extremely seriously to ensure the exam system is not compromised."

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