Cases of malpractice detected by exam boards in England rose by more than a quarter last summer, new figures show.
The level of cheating is up but still relatively low
The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority said in a report that 1,897 incidents were penalised by the AQA board, 1,762 by OCR and 888 by Edexcel.
Taking unauthorised items into exam rooms was the most common offence with 60% of such cases involving mobile phones - probably often accidentally.
A third of cases involved plagiarism, collusion or copying work.
This is the first time that the regulator's annual report on the performance of awarding bodies - as the exam boards are known - has included a breakdown of malpractice.
Penalties imposed ranged from warnings and loss of marks to partial disqualification and, in "a small number" of cases, a total ban from all qualifications.
The numbers involved represent a tiny fraction of the total number of GCSEs and A-levels - less than one in every 1,500 results issued.
The QCA makes the point that individual candidates might be penalised by more than one board and for more than one exam - so the total number of people involved is most probably even smaller.
But its report said: "Although the incidence of candidate malpractice remained low, it is essential that it is actively addressed to ensure that learners, parents and employers can continue to have confidence in the examination system."
It was working with awarding bodies to ensure that schools, candidates and parents fully understood the penalties and consequences, especially where coursework was concerned.
As well as mobile phones being taken into exams, other unauthorised items included notes or notes in the wrong format, study guides, materials with prohibited annotations, calculators and dictionaries where prohibited, and personal audio players.
A spokesperson for the Department for Education and Skills said: "We expect schools to maintain high standards of discipline.
"We have been very clear - there is no place for mobile phones in the classroom let alone in the examining hall."
People had to realise that cheating of any kind would not be tolerated, he added.
What can be done to halt the rise in exam cheating? Your comments:
Search every student? £500 phone jammers in every exam room? Perhaps you've never worked with the logistics of running exams in a large school! Draconian penalties, yes, though. Also, fewer incentives for schools to collude in cheating with coursework.
Jerry Cullum, Alton, UK
How scary to hear the comment of AB, Wiltshire. It really does explain a lot of issues in teaching. If the teacher is unable to enforce the rules at such an important time in a child's life then what are they doing when it is deemed not so important, how can the children learn right and wrong unless it is pointed out to them. Now think about how the other children, who were obeying the rules felt. They probably knew the cheats were doing what they were doing, and saw the authority figure take no action. Where does that leave the authority figure? What message does it send to those children?
Cheating in coursework is far more wide spread. Students get so much feedback from the teachers/peers/parents with regard to this.Cheating in exams is usually picked up by examiners. A jammer is not needed, commercially for £1 a device (used in cars often) lights up just before your mobile goes off. Like how your radio gets effected by a mobile signal before a call. These could be in the possession of the examiners and would find out if a mobile was going off within a few meters or so.
Roger Faires, Watford
The whole concept of education based upon the recall of specific facts is exceptionally flawed. If I had a choice of employing two people: one who had stuck to the rules and crammed information the previous night or someone who showed the initiative to 'cheat' - I'd go for the cheater everytime. Exams only prepare you for crosswords and quiz shows. The real world is about initiative and imagination.
David Garratt, Leeswood, Wales
At the start of any examination, an announcement is made that all mobile telephones should be handed in, and time is given for students to hand over mobiles which are then put in envelopes and handed to college reception for students to pick up at the end of the exam. Therefore there is no excuse.
James Irvine, Thirsk UK
I invigilate exams and I have to say that I tend to just let the kids get on with it. If they want to use mobile phones, have a chat or use other means to gain an unfair advantage then good for them, they will be the ones who have to live with themsleves and the knowing that they cheated.
Where will all this money come to provide "mobile phone signal jammer's" & "a metal detector"? I'd prefer students show a bit more intellegence. It is impossible to forget with all the warnings you're given before each exam.
Unfortunately using phone jammers is illegal in the UK. Much of the problem stems from allowing all sorts of authorised "crib sheets" in exams. Cheating would be much easier to detect if all there was on each desk was a spare pen and a ruler.
jon, Manchester, UK
I think that all students should be reminded to switch off their phones, and leave them either in their bags, or else outside of the exam venue. It is the student's responsibility to act on instructions given by exam invigilators, at whatever level. However, I disagree with Ross Cottey's earlier comment ("So much is said about mobile phones in schools and how they assist cheating in exams. Yet all it needs is a mobile phone signal jammer, for as little as under £500 an exam room could be mobile signal free!") concerning signal jammers, as these can pose a serious health and safety threat to the emergency services, who use radio communications a lot.
David Corkish, Cardiff, UK
Why should I as a tax payer, pay out for additional equipment against those who purposefully cheat? If they cheat and are caught they deserve to be punished provided they are aware of the rules.
Paul, Chelmsford, Essex
This is no different to the rules of a few years ago banning programmable calculators into maths exams. We simply have to insist that, when appropriate, no data storage media is permitted in the classroom (i.e. any digital media device such as mp3 players, digital cameras, watches, dictaphones, PDAs, organisers etc.) especially the ones that support connectivity such as GSM, GPRS, Bluetooth or WiFI (e.g. 802.11g). You then have to use technology to police these rules e.g. mobile phone inhibitors/detectors, scanners as well as physical searches (we used to have to bring only a see-through pencil case, no jackets/bags and had to turn out our pockets -a pragmatic series of measures which only the insane fringe of the politically-correct wing should have a problem with. This is critical to ensure the integrity not only of the examination system, but also the credibility and value of the awards themselves.
martin murray, blandford forum, salisbury
The whole world has gone soft in the head and we are allowing schoolchildren too much latitude at home and at school. However, the problem of exam cheating can only be solved through a "collective will" to stop it. In other words you enter all examination rooms with nothing except the clothes you are dressed in and leave it the same way. At exam time the authorities should provide all the items of equipment from pen & paper to ref book etc that you require to sit the exam. It is that simple. It would then be easier to find the cheaters. It was pretty much like this in my day when I sat exams, so I fail to see what is different now.
Mike Grant, Trinidad & Tobago
The examiners can reduce cheating in written examinations by asking questions that require unique applications, rather than mere recall. Students' ingenuity and insight should be rewarded, and less attention should be given to 'correct' answers.
David Subran, Chaguanas, Trinidad
It amazes me how small-minded people can be today and this topic just fuels my argument. So much is said about mobile phones in schools and how they assist cheating in exams. Yet all it needs is a mobile phone signal jammer, for as little as under £500 an exam room could be mobile signal free! If the education institutions are that concerned, why not take some positive action?
Ross Cottey, Exeter, Devon
Penalising people that harshly for bringing in a mobile phone accidentally seems unreasonable unless there are some measures to stop the phones coming in: mobile-phone detectors exist, and would save a moment of carelessness from causing people significant life trouble.
There is not enough emphasis on the fact that the number of cheaters is small. The vast majority of kids are hard working and honest, although it often does not seem like that.
Tony Ryan, Hull
You could put the kids through a metal detector to find the mobiles. Make them hand their mobiles in - since they all have them. Have allowed materials already on the desk. It's all common-sense really. As for cheating on coursework - unfortunately it requires the teachers to be vigilant and to know their pupils so having 5 maths teachers in one year can't be allowed.
Sandy, Derby, UK
If teachers (or other persons) invigilating in examination halls are doing their job properly, the use of mobile phones and other similar aids used by pupils to cheat is virtually impossible. Such use of any means of cheating can only come about if invigilators are lax in carrying out their duties.
Ted Ring, Sheffield UK
I think the occurrence of cheating in coursework is the biggest cause of concern. Even at A-levels I know many people who thought it acceptable to have had most of the coursework done for them by their parents.
Matthew Hodgson, Halifax, UK
Search all pupils for phones or any prohibited objects before entering the exam hall. These must be confiscated for the duration of the exam. Do the same before they are allowed to exit. Anyone caught with a phone switched on will be kept behind and their exam made void.
Hursh Joshi, London, UK
The solution is simple, and what it always has been. If you're caught cheating, you fail the exam. As for mobile phones, there's no excuse. Before every exam I took, the exam monitors told everyone that no mobile phone was to be in their possession, and if any were discovered, they would fail the exam without question. If a student forgets, it's their own fault. Exams are, after all, designed to let talented students shine brighter than the less capable. Remembering to leave your mobile behind is simply an example of this.
Scott McCarthy, Portsmouth
Whatever measures are put in place students will find a way round. When I did my A levels it was relatively easy to cheat and I only passed my history exam with the aid of a ruler that had every act of parliament on it for the period we had studied. In maths the programmable calculators were very helpful!
Nik, Staines, England