Editorial - Let's be glad that cheats are rare in Wales

20th March 2009 at 00:00
But vigilance in exam halls will need to increase as learning pathways are introduced

Is there a need for CCTV cameras in Welsh exam halls? Andrew Harland, of the Examination Officers' Association, believes so. He says the potential for cheating will increase as 14-19 learning pathways advance - and he has a point.

With candidates sitting exams in multiple locations, supervised by strangers, there could be attempts at impersonation. There has already been one incident where an impostor attempted to sit an exam in place of a named candidate in a Welsh college. More could follow.

Derec Stockley, director of assessment and examination at the exam board WJEC, agrees extra vigilance will be needed as students become more mobile. But does this mean resorting to cameras? Let's put this into perspective: just 283 of almost 700,000 WJEC candidates received warnings or lost marks because of malpractice last year. None of the misdemeanours - many for smuggling mobile phones into exam halls - was serious enough to warrant disqualification. Even incidents of poor behaviour in exam rooms are down year on year.

Contrast this with India, where cheating is so rife that cameras are now a legal requirement in many exam rooms. This Orwellian prospect is detested by many teachers in Wales - not least because it is the solution to a waning problem.

What cheating there is has now graduated from old-fashioned methods of copying and collusion to something more sophisticated. Students are finding increasingly hi-tech ways to fool invigilators. Gadgets, such as MP3 players and pens with tape recorders, can easily be hidden under clothing and hair.

Mr Harland suggests that CCTV could protect both invigilators and pupils from false allegations. Many teachers will sympathise with this view: it is a brave invigilator who accuses a student of cheating on a hunch at a time when allegations of sexual and physical assault against staff are endemic. But Dr Phil Dixon, of the teachers' union ATL Cymru, argues that footage from such cameras is simply not clear enough to be conclusive.

Another strong argument is that cameras could act as a deterrent. But most would agree with Mr Stockley that such invasive surveillance is over the top.

Mr Harland suggests exam centres should issue state-of-the-art ID cards. But this would be costly and most post-16 students already have photographic ID.

Thankfully, cheating and disruption are rare in Welsh exam halls, and incidents are falling. And, while teachers sometimes yearn to be in exam rooms giving their pupils moral support, the system has moved on. The 2003 workload agreement freed qualified teachers from the extra burden of exam duty and, since then, lay invigilators and other staff have been doing a fine job keeping exam halls orderly.

We should celebrate the fall in candidates penalised for cheating and being disruptive, while recognising that, as the pathways are introduced, extra vigilance will be needed in exam halls. But that is as far as it should go. For the time being at least, there is simply no need for costly CCTV or ID cards in Welsh exam halls.

Nicola Porter, Editor, TES Cymru, E: nicola.porter@tes.co.uk.

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