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Disorder in the exam hall

Hundreds punished for misbehaviour while taking A-levels and GCSEs. Warwick Mansell reports

More than 2,000 students had marks cancelled for breaking the rules in last year's GCSE, A-level and vocational exams.

A total of 464 pupils lost marks for disruptive behaviour, more than 1,000 were penalised for either bringing mobile phones into the exam hall or cheating on coursework and a further 800 were punished for other offences..

Behaviour problems ranged from shouting out in frustration at the difficulty of questions to turning up to an exam drunk. One student was disqualified after assaulting an invigilator.

The OCR exam board reported a fourfold rise in cases of misbehaviour, and a 57 per cent increase in pupils punished for breaking GCSE and A-level rules.

Penalties handed out by Edexcel topped 600, while at AQA, they were nearly 1,500. Both were slight falls on the previous year.

The figures, released for the first time by England's three boards as exams began this week, were seized upon by teachers' leaders.

Chris Keates, acting general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said: "This is another illustration of the pressures teachers face on pupil behaviour."

OCR investigated 212 cases of disruptive behaviour in 20023, compared to only 56 or 57 in each of the three previous years.

Of last year's cases, 158 resulted in the candidate losing all the marks gained in a paper. Edexcel investigated 67 cases of misbehaviour or of pupils making offensive comments on scripts - 59 pupils had their marks cancelled. AQA penalised 260 of the 452 pupils it investigated.

Examples cited in OCR's annual report on malpractice included a pupil being disqualified from all exams after repeatedly causing a disturbance in the hall and then "confronting" an invigilator.

Another was disqualified from an exam after finishing early and, then, the candidate admitted, repeatedly talking in the hope of being sent out of the room.

Other cases are understood to have involved pupils refusing to settle down at the start of an exam, repeatedly tapping on the desk and throwing pens and rubbers around. One A-level student in recent years turned up drunk and vomited over a desk, an OCR source said.

Edexcel disqualified a student from an entire exam for assaulting an invigilator. Two pupils were barred from exams for two years after one candidate impersonated another.

The number of penalties handed out for all offences, including warnings, by OCR increased from 726 in 20012 to 1,138 last year, though at Edexcel the figure fell from 635 to 619 and at AQA from 1,747 to 1,487.

OCR said rising numbers taking exams and schools adopting a tougher stance on misconduct partially explained the rise. But the board added that pressures on students were also to blame.

Stephen Hunt, OCR manager of quality and standards, said: "A general decline in standards of behaviour is one of a number of factors behind this increase."

The boards took action against 533 of 751 pupils investigated in cases of colluding in producing work, OCR warning teachers against "excessive guidance and over-coaching" in this area.

Two staff were banned by OCR for two years from examining after tampering with students' coursework folders. Six teachers were investigated by Edexcel for malpractice.

The boards said 515 out of 667 pupils investigated lost marks for bringing mobile phones into the exam hall.

The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority said that with more than one million candidates sitting GCSEs, AS and A-levels each year, the numbers breaking the rules were relatively small.

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