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Exam cheating and unruliness on the wane

But 14-19 learning pathways could see cases of impersonation increase

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The number of cheats and disruptive candidates in exam halls fell significantly last year, according to the latest malpractice results for exam board WJEC reveal.

Only 283 of almost 700,000 GCSE, AS and A-level candidates were warned or lost marks for malpractice - 30 fewer than in 2007. Almost half the warnings were for smuggling in mobile phones and MP3 players, found hidden under pupils' clothing.

Derec Stockley, the board's director of exams and assessment, said past fears that cheating and unruly behaviour would escalate with non-teaching staff being used as invigilators, following the introduction of the 2003 workload agreement, had proved unfounded.

He also praised teachers for getting the plagiarism message across as the number of pupils penalised for lifting other people's work from the internet had dropped year on year - to 86 in 2008.

"A couple of years ago, we would see pupils' work with the outline of the internet still on the paper. It was naivety on the part of student. But teachers are obviously doing a great job informing them of exactly what plagiarism is - previously pupils were oblivious," Mr Stockley said.

The malpractice figures - contained in a report on WJEC's 2008 performance by the Department for Children, Education and Lifelong Learning - revealed that just 28 candidates were penalised for disruptive behaviour, including incidents of swearing, while 16 were penalised for using inappropriate, offensive or obscene material in exam papers or coursework.

But not one case of old-fashioned forms of cheating, such as copying or collusion, was recorded.

The Examination Officers' Association praised the figures, but warned that potential for cheating in Wales over the next couple of years was high because of the introduction of the vocational 14-19 learning pathways curriculum, which would make it harder for exam officers to identify pupils as they moved between colleges and schools.

Andrew Harland, chief executive of the association, said: "As students move around institutions to sit exams, the potential for cheating will increase - someone could sit an exam for someone else."

He supports the use of cameras in exam rooms and hi-tech methods of pupil identification, such as fingerprinting.

"CCTV would be protection for both student and exam officer," he said. "Sometimes invigilators are accused of eyeballing candidates they believe are cheating. Cameras should prove beyond doubt whether they are (cheating) or not."

But the suggestion was dismissed as over the top by Mr Stockley, especially as only a small minority of students were caught cheating.

Dr Phil Dixon, of the ATL Cymru teachers' union, agreed: "I'm not a big fan of CCTV. Often the footage is fuzzy and unreliable."

But Mr Stockley admitted the 14-19 learning pathways could cause new problems in exam rooms. "There has already been one instance of impersonation in a Welsh college," he said.

The WJEC issued five written warnings to exam centre staff. One centre was also given an official written warning, and five centre heads were asked to review their exam procedures.

Mr Stockley said the warning was issued after parents voiced concerns that unruly behaviour in exams was harming their children's results.

The figures revealed a 17 per cent increase in approved special consideration - where candidates request extra time or special treatment because of illness, bereavement or injury - on 2007.

"We approved more requests because they were genuine. Candidates were not trying it on," said Mr Stockley. "We still get the odd bizarre request though, such as the budgie dying on the morning."

Editorial, page 2.

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