Ban all watches from exam rooms and monitor dark web, malpractice commission says

All watches should be banned from exam rooms and awarding organisations should do more to monitor leaks of exam papers on the dark web, a commission into malpractice has concluded.

The report of the independent commission on exam malpractice, released today, has said invigilators are finding it increasingly difficult to keep up with and monitor new technology which could allow pupils to cheat during exams.

Smart watches are already banned from exam halls and schools do already have the power to ban watches if they choose, but the commission has now proposed a compulsory blanket ban on all types of watches, unless a pupil has a special need for one.

The Joint Council for Qualifications, which represents all exam boards, said it will consider the report’s recommendations and was already considering banning all watches in examinations from next summer.

However Sir John Dunford, who chaired the commission, admitted there was little evidence that smart watches actually are being used to cheat in exams.

Speaking at the launch of the report yesterday, he said: “I think it is our fear that this will happen, and our wish to make the job a bit easier for exams officers and invigilators whose jobs are really, really difficult, by having a blanket ban rather than allowing some things and not allowing others.”

The report also raised concerns that pupils could be using even more advanced means to cheat in exams, including in-ear technology, magic calculators and even false fingernails concealing microphones. However, it said there was “little evidence” that any technology other than mobile phones was “widely used” for cheating in the UK.

Exam boards are still struggling against the challenges of social media leaks. This summer, questions from an entire Edexcel A-level maths paper were circulated online before the exam was sat. The commission also raised concerns that more pupils were pretending to leak online, something which it said is still classed as malpractice.

As a result, the commission has said the JCQ should take the lead in “facilitating the monitoring of the dark web” for signs of malpractice, and pupils should be reminded of their responsibilities to report any suspected malpractice they see online.

The report also highlighted concerns about the rise in the level of pupils granted access arrangements and special consideration in exams – with access arrangements up 13 per cent in three years, and special consideration up 27 per cent – and the lack of available data to assess the impact of this on individual candidates.

It said this “raises questions that need to be answered” about whether this is a “legitimate growth” or an “abuse of the system”, or a “system failure” that suggests reform is needed, and recommended JCQ commissioned more research into it.

It noted that the “highest proportion” of special consideration requests are for progress 8 subjects, and said it was a “matter of concern that the playing field is not level between well-resourced centres that can afford to have large students with access arrangements and other centres which do not, or cannot afford to, have the time and resources to process and invigilate large numbers.”

A spokesperson for Ofqual said it also had the “strong view” that “more meaningful” data needed to be collected about pupils granted access arrangements “so that questions of fairness can be answered satisfactorily” and was working to find a way that the data could be collected in the “most efficient way possible”.

Other recommendations include improving the training given to exams officers and invigilators, including ethical conduct in examinations in initial teacher training and headteacher standards and creating one standard definition of ‘malpractice’ across all awarding organisations.

Dunford said that underlying all of the recommendations is the “belief for an ethical approach to the conduct of examinations by all concerned, including staff and students.

“There is a lot more that can be done to prevent malpractice by both staff and candidates.”

JCQ will consider the recommendations and is due to publish a report next September to highlight its progress.

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