Malpractice report calls for all watches to be banned

Report says other devices that could be used by students to cheat include microscopic cameras hidden in lapel badges, Google glasses and false fingernails concealing a microphone

Catherine Lough

student in test

A report published today called for all watches and internet-enabled devices to be banned from exam rooms.

The report by the independent commission into malpractice, chaired by Sir John Dunford, said an overall ban on watches was needed as exams officers were now “unable to distinguish” between ordinary watches and smartwatches.

Awarding bodies must also step up their use of technology to combat online leaks, the report said.

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And the commission recommended that exam centres should conduct toilet sweeps to stop students cheating.

The report also said there needs to be a definition of malpractice that is “as free as possible from jargon.”

The final review is the work of an independent commission set up by exam membership body the Joint Council for Qualifications in July of last year.

It recommended that all watches be banned in exam rooms, as well as maintaining the existent ban on mobile phones.

Sir John said: "I think watches have now come into the same category as iPads and mobile phones and everything….Young people tell the time by looking at their phone, but use their watch to look at their emails and Google."

He said some watches' screens could switch easily between a clock face or an internet search engine, "giving a very difficult job to invigilators."

Exams officers were increasingly unable to tell the difference between traditional watches and internet-enabled devices.

"It can look as if it's a time-telling watch and actually, you press a button and it becomes an email-type watch."

The increasingly "miniaturised" nature of technology also made it easier for students to cheat, Sir John said.

The report said it was impossible to draw up an exhaustive list of devices that could be used by students to cheat, but suggested that microscopic cameras hidden in lapel badges, Google glasses, false fingernails concealing a microphone, and calculator shells hiding a mobile phone could all be used by students to bend the rules.

And it suggested students could use the "dark web" for malpractice “with question papers being sold to candidates in advance of the examination”.

It said there should be more efforts made to scan social media to prevent leaks. This summer, an Edexcel maths A-level paper was leaked in its entirety on private social networks.

The report drew attention to how WhatsApp, as an encrypted communication channel, has been used to share exam questions in advance, and said Snapchat and Instagram could be used in similar ways in future.

In order to “future-proof” the system, the commission recommended that awarding bodies use sophisticated technology to electronically track exam papers, as well as monitoring the web.

It recommended that JCQ should build a relationship with the National Cyber Security Centre to support its members in tackling leaks.

This summer, Pearson Edexcel used microchips to track some of its exam papers in a bid to prevent malpractice.

The commission also recommended that exams centres conduct toilet sweeps during exams season, to prevent candidates hiding notes or electronic devices in cubicles.

And it drew attention to access arrangements in exams. While there was no evidence this was a form of malpractice, the commission was “concerned by the recent rise in the number of applications”.

 “On access arrangements and special considerations, we have gone into the data and found it to be very unsatisfactory,” Sir John said.

“Clearly the commission was very concerned about the very high numbers and indeed the rapid increase in numbers of applications for access arrangements and special considerations. But we’re equally concerned that some schools make very few applications in relation to their entry numbers.”

The report said the existing data on access arrangements was “poor,” but noted that “research indicates that proportionately more applications are made by resource-rich schools” and said JCQ and awarding bodies needed to give this further consideration.

The report recommended that JCQ, the regulatory authorities and its member organisations need to “clearly define malpractice, in the interests of public accountability” and agree upon a definition that is free from jargon and “accessible to a non-expert audience”.

The report stated that “the documentation produced by JCQ is unnecessarily dense and confusing”.

Last week, Tes reported that there were 21 changes in total in the regulations for organising exams this year published by JCQ. All changes are undated and there is no index for exams officers to search for changes easily.

Some experts have raised concerns that this could lead to unwitting malpractice. In a survey by The Student Room with over 1,500 respondents, nearly 4 in 10 students - 38 per cent - thought looking at another student's coursework for ideas before it was submitted would not be malpractice. 

Mark Bedlow, chair of JCQ, said: "JCQ and its member awarding bodies recognise the hard work of Sir John and the members of his commission in undertaking such a detailed review of the current system to guard against malpractice in the UK's examination and assessment system."

"The commission's findings show that the system is robust and that very little malpractice occurs due to the diligence and professionalism of those involved. However, the Commission has noted a number of areas for improvement of our systems to further minimise incidents of malpractice."

Sir John said: "Underlying the commission's recommendations is our belief in the need for an ethical approach to the conduct of examinations by all concerned, including staff and students."

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author bio

Catherine Lough

Catherine Lough is a reporter at Tes.

Find me on Twitter @CathImogenLough

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