Cheating stats don’t tell the whole story – Ofqual

Almost half of England’s exam penalties are due to the possession of mobile phones, whether or not cheating was intended

A report published by the UK Government cites mobile phones as being the most common reason for exam penalties being issued in 2018. 

The report Malpractice for GCSE, AS and A-level: summer 2018 exam series, published in December 2018, states that 2,735 penalties were issued to students in schools and colleges across England last year. 

The main reason for these penalties, the report confirms, was students being in possession of a mobile phone. Phones accounted for 47% of all student penalties in 2018, an increase of 22% since 2017. 

However, this month, the Independent reported that, according to Ofqual, many students carry their phones into exams to avoid the anxiety of being separated from them, rather than to cheat. An Ofqual spokesperson told ET: “Exams officers say that most students don’t intend to use their phones to cheat. Students are penalised for having their phone on them, in breach of the rules, even though they didn’t use them.”

The issue of cheating is global, though, and recent headlines from across the world, including the UK, India, Algeria, Kenya, and the US, have reported issues with cheating both in schools and universities. 

Reports of commercialised cheating businesses have emerged, including a so-called “cheating mafia” in India. One parent told the Guardian that her son’s private tutor offered to connect her with someone who could anonymously send him answers for his economics and maths exams via mobile phone. She signed up, along with four or five other families. She told the Guardian: “It is totally common. All of us probably paid this man about 60,000 rupees (£650).” 

Although the problem in the UK does not appear to have reached these heights (yet), there is a business element to cheating in UK education. Celina Garza, academic honesty manager for International Baccalaureate (IB), told ET: “There is a new ‘trade’ making cheating easier and more accessible. Essay mills and ghost-writing agencies are now able to advertise supporting services to struggling students. In the past, such support existed but it was more discreet or performed by relatives (such as parents helping their children).” 

For a more in-depth look at the recent focus on academic cheating, see The Report. 

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