Ban all watches to help stop cheating in exams, review suggests
ALL watches should be banned from exam halls to prevent cheating, according to an inquiry.
Invigilators find it difficult to distinguish between modern smartwatches and older, analogue timepieces, it found.
There should also be `toilet sweeps' to stop pupils hiding notes and devices in cubicles, an inquiry commissioned by the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) concluded.
It assessed malpractice in Britain and Northern Ireland and found while that there was a "very low level" of cheating, the system could be improved.
Sir John Dunford, chairman of the commission, said malpractice was "disproportionately damaging when it occurs".
A clampdown on all watches during exams is a key recommendation.
Figures from the north's exams board, the CCEA, show malpractice has been on the rise.
There were 115 cases in GCSE, AS and A-level papers sat by Northern Ireland candidates in summer 2018 - up from 85 and 70 the two previous years.
These included plagiarism, copying, misuse of ICT and using unauthorised material.
There was also a rise in pupils caught bringing "unauthorised material into the examination room", including mobile phones and electronic communicating devices.
Such instances almost doubled from 25 in 2017 to 40 last year. All 40 involved mobile phones and most resulted in a loss of marks.
The number of cases involving misuse of ICT also doubled from 10 to 20 over the same period.
Smartwatches are already banned but the commission recommended that this should be extended to all watches.
It suggested it could be difficult to tell the difference between what was a smartwatch and what was not.
Sir John said young people "tend to look at the time on their phone" and if they use a watch, it is often also used to look at other things, such as emails.
"What is really difficult is with some watches you can just swap between the two very easily," he said.
"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.
"So I think the obvious thing to do here is to ban watches."
Some exam centres already operate a blanket ban on watches.
Under JCQ rules, all schools and colleges must have clocks in exam rooms.
Sir John said there was some concern about clocks that just have a digital face with numbers displayed.
"Some young people apparently can't tell the time on a clock unless it's got numbers on," he said.
"One would have thought that by the age of 16 they would be able to."