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Exam hall watch ban recommended as invigilators 'find it difficult to identify smartwatches'

A commission has recommended banning students from wearing any kind of watch in exams as invigilators find it difficult to tell a smartwatch from an ordinary one. Picture: Chris Radburn/PA Wire

A commission has recommended banning students from wearing any kind of watch in exams as invigilators find it difficult to tell a smartwatch from an ordinary one. Picture: Chris Radburn/PA Wire

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Students should be banned from wearing watches in exams to help curb cheating.

An inquiry into exam malpractice said invigilators found it difficult to distinguish between modern smartwatches - which can connect to the internet - and older, analogue timepieces.

"Toilet sweeps" should also be carried out to stop pupils hiding notes and devices in cubicles, the inquiry commissioned by the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) concluded.

While the commission found a "very low level" of cheating overall, its chairman Sir John Dunford said detected malpractice is "disproportionately damaging when it occurs so it needs dealing with".

Smartwatches are already banned from exam halls but the commission said this should be extended to all watches - a key recommendation of its inquiry which could come into force as soon as next summer.

Smartwatches, which can connect to the internet, are already banned in exam halls. Picture: Getty ImagesSmartwatches, which can connect to the internet, are already banned in exam halls. Picture: Getty Images

Young people "tend to look at the time on their phone", Sir John said, and if they use a watch, it is often also used to look at other things, such as emails.

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"It can look as if it's a time-telling watch and actually, you press a button and it becomes an email-type watch and if you don't ban them all I think you're giving a very difficult job to invigilators who are looking round an exam room," he said.

It is understood some exam centres - such as schools and colleges - already have a blanket ban on watches. Under JCQ rules all exam rooms must have clocks in them.

The review says: "Due to the proliferation of smartwatches and increases in their capabilities, and the difficulty for invigilators in being able to distinguish between smartwatches and non-smartwatches, all watches should be banned from examination rooms."

Modern technology and social media mean the types of cheating seen in exams is constantly changing and it can be difficult for awarding bodies to keep ahead of new developments, the review said.

"We tried to look into the future and we've tried to help JCQ to future-proof the system," Sir John said.

Official figures show that in the summer of 2018, pupils in England were penalised on 2,735 occasions for cheating in GCSE, AS and A-level exams, while 620 penalties were given to school and college staff.

The most common type of pupil cheating in 2018 was taking unauthorised materials - such as mobile phones - into the exam hall.

Penalties can range from losing marks to being disqualified from a qualification.

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