The number of penalties for bringing phones or smart watches into exams for vocational and technical qualifications quadrupled last year.
Ofqual data published this week showed that 750 of the penalties were issued to VTQ students in 2022 compared with around 150 in 2020-21, 200 in 2019-20 and 300 in 2018-19.
For GCSEs and A-levels there were 1,845 penalties in the most recent year compared with 1,385 in 2019.
The regulator said that the volume of formal exams in VTQs is increasing, and the increase could be driven by processes or rules being less familiar following two years of cancelled exams during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Ofqual guidance says that the penalty for bringing mobile phones, smart watches or any other communication or internet-enabled device into an exam can include the removal of marks for that assessment, a student’s disqualification from that subject or disqualification from every subject the student is taking.
Around three fifths of the penalties for VTQ students in 2022 were a loss of marks, Ofqual’s blog said.
The watchdog said that students often take their phone into exams because it is expensive and they do not want to lose sight of it. “They have become so used to having it on them that they don’t even think about it,” the guidance says.
“Not intending to cheat however, or forgetting that it was in their pocket, is not a justification.”
A spokesperson added: “Ofqual takes malpractice very seriously and expects awarding organisations to prevent it and thoroughly investigate allegations of it. Where malpractice is proven, awarding organisations should take swift and effective action to address it and stop it from happening again.”
The regulator confirmed that possession of devices, regardless of whether they have been used or not, could attract penalties.
A spokesperson from the Joint Council for Qualifications, the membership body for qualification providers, said: “The JCQ awarding organisations take action where students are found in possession of unauthorised items in order to uphold the integrity of exams for everyone.
“As in previous years, we have issued guidance to students who are taking exams and would like to take this opportunity to remind all students not to bring any mobile phone device into their examination.”