Leading article: Exam techno-cheats must be defeated

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The Independent Online

This week's research by Nottingham Trent University for the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, the exams watchdog, shows that today's students have become so ingenious at devising ways of cheating that drastic measures are required.

Must we prepare for invigilators wandering round exam halls frisking students to find out whether they are using mobile phones? The answer is, probably, yes. More than 1,000 youngsters had their mobiles confiscated in exam halls last year. But the researchers believe many more young people successfully smuggled devices into exams to help them cheat, either by texting friends outside for the answers or by storing information in their phones to give them the answers to expected questions.

The only way to ensure that we defeat cheating through technology is to frisk all candidates as they enter the examination hall to stop them bringing in their mobile phones. The research identifies cheating as a significant problem, one that threatens the integrity of the entire examination system. It suggests there should be a campaign to ensure that a new culture takes root in schools under which dishonesty is frowned upon - and it cites the drink-driving laws, as a result of which it became socially unacceptable to drink and drive.

That might not be enough to do the trick, however. One measure likely to produce results is putting up a large poster spelling out what devices are and are not acceptable to bring into an examination room. That move has been suggested by the researchers. It would provide a clear warning about what would happen to those who did not pay heed to these warnings - in other words, they would be deemed to have failed the exam.

The reason that cheating has reached such extraordinary levels is symptomatic of the enormous pressure on pupils to perform in examinations - driven, among other things, by the culture of exam league tables. That raises another question about whether the curriculum should be dominated so much by teaching to tests and exams. This is a bigger question for another occasion, but there is little doubt that a reduction in the amount of high-stakes testing would reduce the imperative on today's youngsters to cheat.

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