Sharp rise in exam cheats

Warwick Mansell

More than 2,500 students lost marks for breaking the rules in last year's GCSEs, A-levels and vocational exams, and at least 500 were penalised because their teacher was involved.

Figures released to The TES this week reveal a 9 per cent rise in the number of penalties dished out to pupils in 2004, with more than 1,000 punished or warned for offences linked to mobile phones.

Nearly 700 students were caught copying coursework, an 11 per cent increase, while more than 500 were penalised for disruptive behaviour in exam halls, the figures from England's three major boards reveal.

The top five offences were: mobile phones (1,013 penalties); coursework collusion (695); disruption (523); booksnotes brought in (352); coursework plagiarism (227).

Students are banned from taking phones into the exam hall and they can lose marks if found to be carrying a mobile, even if it is switched off.

One board, OCR, reported an eightfold increase, from seven to 55, in the number of teachers investigated for malpractice. Some 516 pupils were penalised as a result of their teacher's actions, the OCR said. The AQA board took action against 50 teachers.

OCR put much of the rise down to some teachers providing too much help to pupils preparing research projects for the exams.

The findings come after several annual reports on individual exams have criticised teachers, many of whom are under huge pressure to improve results, for turning a blind eye to coursework cheating.

Pupils who gain from teachers' malpractice can lose marks even if they themselves have done nothing wrong, said the OCR board.

Edexcel issued 847 exam penalties, a 16 per cent increase on 2003, varying from warnings to students being disqualified from current and future exams.

At OCR, penalties went up 12 per cent to 1,275, plus the 516 given to pupils caught up in teacher malpractice. At AQA, penalties rose 3 per cent to 1,533.

Exam boards put the increase down to the pressures facing pupils, and schools becoming more vigilant in spotting rule-breaking.

An Edexcel spokeswoman said: "The figures are disappointing, but schools and colleges are recognising that pupils are under great pressure to perform and therefore may be tempted to cheat."

An AQA spokeswoman said: "The message to candidates is don't cheat, because you are likely to get caught."


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Warwick Mansell

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