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Pupils 'don't get gravity’ of mobile phone exam ban, says Ofqual

Ofqual urges schools to warn pupils about the consequences of bringing phones and smart watches into GCSEs and A levels

Ofqual has reported a rise in the number of students taking mobile phones into GCSE and A-level exams

Some pupils still “do not understand the gravity” of bringing mobile phones and smart watches into their exams, Ofqual has said.

In a letter sent to headteachers before GCSEs and A levels get underway, the exam regulator urged schools to be mindful of students bringing devices into their exams, as well as exam package security.

The letter, written by the chief regulator Sally Collier, says: “As you know, mobile phones and smart watches must be stored away from students during exams.


Background: Pupils penalised for phones in exam rooms up 22%

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“We know that exams officers put a lot of work into getting this message across, but still some students do not understand the gravity of breaching this rule.

“Any extra support you are able to give to communicate this to students will help add weight to the message.”

In 2018 the number of penalties handed out for taking mobile phones into GCSEs, AS levels and A-level exams rose by more than a fifth.

Exam security

There were 1,295 penalties handed out for taking mobiles into exams, compared with 1,060 in 2017 – an increase of 22 per cent. 

Taking unauthorised materials – including phones – into the exam room was the most common type of pupil malpractice reported in 2018, also rising by 22 per cent in 2018 compared with 2017.

Mobile phones were by far the most common unauthorised material, accounting for 75 per cent of such penalties.


GCSEs: Exam dates Find the key dates and exam timetables for the 2019 GCSEs

GCSEs: Results Find all the key dates and information for the 2019 GCSE results day 

A-level: Exam dates When are the 2019 A-levels? Find exam board information, timetables and dates

A-level: Results Find the dates and information for the 2019 A-levels results day 


In total, punishments for having mobile phones accounted for 47 per cent of all student penalties handed out in 2018.

Ofqual has previously said that more young people are bringing devices into their exams not necessarily because they want to cheat, but because they "cannot bear to be separated" from their phones

Ms Collier also urges schools to be vigilant about exam packages. “Packages from exam boards must be delivered directly to the exams office secure storage, and should not spend any longer than absolutely necessary in reception areas,” she writes.

“At least two members of staff must be present to check the right packets are opened, which should only occur up to an hour before the exam starts.

“This can be difficult to manage, depending on staffing and other responsibilities exams officers have during that hour. It is, however, vitally important that this rule is followed.”

AQA has had to send replacement question papers for AS sociology and GCSE French to schools after a batch of its papers were stolen from a courier vehicle.

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