The number of students issued with penalties for wrongdoing in GCSE and A-level exams rose by more than two-fifths compared to the last pre-Covid year of exams.

Ofqual data, published on Thursday, shows 4,335 penalties were issued to students by exam boards this year – a stark rise from the 3,040 issued in 2019.

However this still equates to a very small number of students overall (3,895 of 1.2 million students who sat exams in 2022).

Penalties were issued in just 0.03 per cent of exam entries.

Mobile phone or other communication device ‘offences’ accounted for 1,845 penalties – the largest proportion of penalties in 2022 (43 per cent).

In 2019, the last year formal exams took place before the pandemic, students taking mobiles into exam rooms also made up the largest proportion of penalties.

But the figure was 1,385, meaning this offence has grown by 33 per cent this year.

The number of instances of students being penalised for disruptive behaviour, or other unauthorised materials such as watches also rose slightly.

Students losing all marks up by third

As a result of exam board regulation breaches, there were 805 instances of students losing ‘aggregation or certification’, meaning they lost marks for the entire exam.

The number of students receiving this harshest penalty rose 32 per cent from 2019, when 610 students were issued with a loss of aggregation or certification.

But the loss of marks was the most common type of penalty to face pupils – issued in 2,075 instances.

This is an increase of a third, or 33 per cent, from 2019, when 1,560 penalties resulting in a loss of marks were issued.

Many students received only a warning, which accounted for 1,455 of penalties. In 2019, the comparative figure was 870.

The majority of individuals, 93 per cent, who were sanctioned for malpractice received just one penalty.

Students were most likely to lose marks for taking mobile phones into exam rooms, and most likely to effectively be disqualified from the exam for disruptive behaviour.

Staff and school penalties down since Covid

While the number of students facing sanctions grew this year, those issued to both staff and schools or colleges fell.

Penalties for school and college staff dropped by 24 per cent between 2019 and 2022, from 450 to 340. There are around 360,000 staff members in England.

Penalties issued to entire schools or colleges were also down by 56 per cent, from 135 to 60. In 2022, penalties involved 0.9 per cent of centres.

Staff and school malpractice can include failure to comply with regulations, improper assistance to candidates and maladministration.

More exams disrupted by cyber attacks

Elsewhere, Ofqual’s newly published GCSE, AS and A level summer report shows an increase in incidents of delivery failures reported by exam boards.

The figure jumped from 32 in 2019, to 57 in 2022. Of those failures, the largest increase was in cyber attacks, from three to 26 in the same timeframe.

All the attacks were on exam centres “aimed at denying access to their systems or students’ work”, the report stated.

“Which could either have impacted on their ability to access exam board administrative processes such as applications for reviews of marking and moderation or to submit [non-exam assessment]”.

As a result, exam boards were forced to provide alternative access to their processes, “flexibility” over administrative deadlines or special consideration.

Fourteen separate schools and colleges reported cyber attacks, with Ofqual noting that because centres often enter with more than one exam board, the same attack may have been reported twice.


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