Rise in exam malpractice

Article from April/May 2018 issue of Your Voice.

Model teach sitting on life size calculator

By Martin Hodge, Professional Officer (Policy & Research Services)

As the invigilator paces down the rows of students, there is nervousness in the air.  It has been made abundantly clear that the punishment for cheating is high, but a small number of students will persist, and this will have a dramatic impact on their future…

Last year, 2,715 penalties were issued to students for malpractice – a 25% increase, up from 2,180 in 2016. 

  • The main reason given was unauthorised materials in the exam room – usually, having access to a mobile phone (39%). 
  • Plagiarism was the second largest cause of student malpractice (17%). The vast majority of these cases (86%) were in computing.   
  • Mathematics and computing combined account for over a third of all student malpractice. 
  • The most common penalty applied to students for malpractice is loss of marks, in some instances all the marks for that paper.  This sanction was applied in 45% of cases, up 8% over the previous year.

Rise in penalties for schools and teachers

Still thankfully rare, but more worrying, is the 150% rise in penalties applied to schools and individual teachers.

120 penalties were issued to schools and colleges in 2017, mostly because of maladministration – the wrong paper opened at the wrong time being a common cause.  Therefore, if you are in charge of starting or supporting an exam, take the time to read the label, before you open the pack!

It is clear that schools are desperate to increase their performance and standing, particularly because of league tables.  The situation is now such that many teachers feel under greater pressure than the students to perform in exams.  This led to a large increase last year in written warnings issued to staff – an increase of 194% over 2016, continuing the trend of previous years and showing that exam boards are taking serious action against malpractice.

Suspected Malpractice in Examinations and Assessments 2016-17 (JCQ):

"The examination board decided that the candidates had received an advantage as a result of receiving extra time and therefore the work could not be accepted."


The range of sanctions available to the exam boards is substantial.  Warnings can be issued to teachers and invigilators, teaching assistants and other support staff involved in the administration of exams in general and vocational subjects at secondary and college level, and also increasingly to staff in primary schools as a result of malpractice during SATs. 

Beyond this, exam boards can impose special conditions, such as supervision by another centre or suspension from all involvement in the delivery or administration of examinations.

This has serious implications for an individual member of staff’s continued employment and would almost certainly lead to disciplinary sanctions that could impact on their future job prospects.

If you witness cheating or suspect behaviour, you must report it, to Ofqual or STA immediately. 

Suspected Malpractice in Examinations and Assessments 2016-17 (JCQ):

"The member of staff was barred from involvement in the awarding body’s examinations for a period of five years and other awarding bodies were informed." 

Further information

Ofqual: Malpractice for GCSE, AS and A level (Summer 2017)

Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ): Malpractice

JCQ video: Procedures for handling exam papers:


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