An increasing number of young people are being penalised for exam malpractice because they "cannot bear to be separated" from their mobile phones, a senior Ofqual official has said.
Julie Swan, executive director of general qualifications at the qualifications regulator, said that many students were taking their mobiles into exam halls not because they wanted to cheat, but because they could not countenance being separated from their phone or they worried about its "safety and security".
According to figures published by Ofqual in January, the number of penalties issued to students for malpractice in GCSEs and A levels increased by a quarter last year – from 2,180 in 2016 to 2,715 in 2017.
The increase was driven by a rise in cases where unauthorised materials were brought into the exam room, which was the most common category of malpractice in 2017. In most cases, the material in question was a mobile phone or other electronic communications device. Bringing phones into the exam hall accounted for 39 per cent of all student penalties.
Students 'don't want to leave mobile phones'
Speaking at the Association of School and College Leaders' conference in Birmingham, Ms Swan said: “If you’ve ever read our malpractice statistics, you’ll know that the most common cause of malpractice, when it comes to student malpractice, involves a mobile phone.
"And it’s been very clear, as a result of this work, that in many cases it’s not that students are keeping their mobile phones on their persons during the exams in order to do anything wrong. It’s simply that they cannot bear to be separated from them, and they are worried about the safety and security of their phones if they are."
Ms Swan added: "This is something that I think we need to reflect upon as we consider how to try and reduce the number of incidents where students are penalised or sanctioned for having a mobile phone on them when that’s clear a breach of the rules.”