RISING numbers of penalties are being handed out to school staff and students for exam malpractice, official figures show.

New statistics reveal a 149% hike in penalties issued to teachers and other workers, while the numbers for pupils rose by 25%.

Malpractice covers anything that could "undermine the integrity of an exam", according to regulator Ofqual.

This includes issues such as students attempting to communicate with each other while sitting a paper, or failure by staff to comply with exam board instructions.

The latest figures, which cover GCSEs, AS-levels and A-levels taken in England last summer, show that 2,715 penalties were issued to students, up from 2,180 the year before, while 895 were given to staff, up from 360 in 2016.

In addition, 120 penalties were issued to schools and colleges, down from 155 the year before.

Among students, the most common type of malpractice was taking unauthorised materials into an exam, and in most cases this was a mobile phone or other electronic communication device. The second largest category of student malpractice was plagiarism.

The most common penalty handed out was a loss of marks, the statistics show.

Maths and computing combined accounted for more than a third of all student malpractice penalties in 2017, Ofqual said.

Among school staff, the biggest reason for malpractice was maladministration of exams (46%), followed by giving improper assistance to candidates (31%).

Other categories of malpractice among staff included breach of security and failing to comply with regulations.

The most common penalty meted out to staff for malpractice was a written warning.

The numbers of penalties issued to staff and students represent only a very small proportion of the total number of staff and exam entries across the country.

Last month, Ofqual said exam safeguards should be ''strengthened'' in its review of rules allowing teachers to set question papers.

In a report, published in the wake of exam leak allegations, the watchdog said cheating is rare but can be ''deeply damaging'' to public confidence when it happens.