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MP3 ban as exam abuse cases rise

Rise in cheating blamed on gizmos and workforce deal. Nicola Porter reports Trendy MP3 players are to be banned from examination halls, as new figures show cheating and disruptive behaviour doubled in Wales in last summer's exams.

Officials are cracking down on hi-tech exam cheats after a bumper year for mobile phone malpractice. Reports to the Welsh Joint Education Committee of ringing mobiles went up 32 per cent in 2005.

Mobile phones are already banned from exam rooms, and pupils who smuggle them in can lose marks and risk being excluded from school. However, most cases of cheating (114) investigated by the WJEC involved plagiarism - with pupils often trying to pass off material from the internet or classmates as their own.

The WJEC investigated 281 cases of exam malpractice last year, double the number in 2004. Misdemeanours included talking in exams, copying, passing notes and writing on sweet wrappers. However, electronic cheating is fast replacing some of the older forms of fiddling the system, such as scribbles on the hand.

The Joint Qualifications Council has introduced a ban on fashionable MP3 music players and pagers. MP3 players are capable of storing up to 60 gigabytes of non-music data - about the size of a conventional PC.

\Rhys Williams, campaigns officer for the National Union of Teachers Cymru, said teachers had to be ahead of the game to keep pace with new ways of cheating. But he linked the rise in reports of cheating to the removal of exam invigilation from teachers' duties, as part of the workload agreement.

The change has meant that schools are employing classroom assistants, lunchtime supervisors and other unqualified staff to patrol exam rooms.

Warning that exam rooms could become a playground for disruptive pupils, he added: "This really is quite serious - lunchtime supervisors are not seen as such an authority figure by pupils under exam conditions as a fully-qualified teacher.

"It is worrying that disruptive behaviour, as well as cheating, is on the increase already - it cannot be a coincidence."

Barrie Phillips, head of exams and deputy head at Fitzalan high school, Cardiff, said it would be down to a school's head of exams - a senior manager -to ensure all pupils are aware of the rules at the beginning of each exam.

"We are proud to say we did not have one case of cheating last year," he said.

In England last summer, around 1,100 exam candidates were caught with mobile phones. Overall, more than 4,500 were penalised for malpractice - a 27 per cent increase on 2004, according to figures from the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority.

About a third (1,414) of the 4,500 penalised candidates were found to have been involved in plagiarism, collusion or copying another candidate's work in their exams or coursework.

TES Cymru reported last month (March 31 issue) that exams watchdogs across the UK are looking at reducing the coursework content of GCSE and A-levels, in part to reduce the incidence of plagiarism.

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