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Blog - Exam boards police social media in cheating crackdown

UK exam boards have set up dedicated teams to monitor social media as part of moves to clamp down on cheating.

A “huge amount” of time and effort is spent looking for signs and indications of malpractice in exams online, the heads of exam boards have said.

The comments came as the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) – which represents the boards – announced an independent inquiry into exam cheating.

The exam boards insisted that malpractice was “extremely rare”.

Official figures released in January showed that last year, 2,715 penalties were issued to candidates (0.01%), along with 895 to school staff and 120 to schools and colleges.

Sanctions issued to candidates were overwhelmingly for possession of a mobile phone in an exam, the JCQ said.

The new inquiry into cheating, which will be led by Sir John Dunford, chairman of schools partnership Whole Education and former general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, will begin in September and report back in the spring of next year.

“The integrity of the exam system is of vital importance to everyone involved, but especially to the young people taking exams on whose grades their futures depend,” said Sir John.

“We will seek evidence from a wide range of stakeholders to ensure that all views are represented and I hope that the recommendations of the commission will play a significant part in reducing malpractice at all levels.”

‘Technology change’

Exam chiefs insisted that the inquiry is not a response to any particular issue, but is part of ongoing work to prevent malpractice.

Mark Bedlow, of the OCR exam board, said: “Malpractice that is deliberate is still extremely rare.

“But we are seeing the occasional story pop up and it is getting profile and we are also seeing students increasingly use technology in different ways.”

He added that a lot of work is already done to combat cheating, but more can be done to look at issues such as the role of social media, and to understand the reasons for it.

“There’s all this technology change that’s going on. We spend a huge amount of effort and time monitoring social media, to look for signs and indicators of malpractice.”

He added that the board has people examining social media platforms throughout the year.

Alex Scharaschkin, of the AQA exam board, said awarding bodies are conscious of the fact that there are different ways in which information can be shared.

Derek Richardson, from educational publisher Pearson, said: “The vast majority of students do exams under the right conditions and they want confidence that other candidates are doing exams under the same conditions.”

The announcement comes as teenagers across the UK prepare to learn their National, Higher, GCSE and A-level results.