On cheating: in coursework and exams

By PaulyMy Guardian piece this month is on cheating and the temptation teachers face in both coursework and the exam hall to bend the rules.

Despite what the commenters think, none of this is based in fantasy. I haven’t even used the most egregious examples. As another commenter pointed out, what happens in some places is far worse.

I’m also not saying that cheating is widespread, justifiable or ‘allowed’. What I was pointing out is that:

(a) the exam boards do not always help teachers make good decisions, and

(b) if you do find yourself in a situation where you want to whistleblow (as this commenter did) then it is not straightforward. The processes are often hidden and even now I have no idea what assurances would be given – either to students grades, my anonymity, people’s jobs.

That so many people have reacted with a chorus of “this is absolutely ludicrous” bothers me intensely. Not because I worry about being lampooned, but because that sort of collective blindness is insidious. Imagine if you’ve read this piece, and then you DO see someone dropping keywords into an instruction speech – are you likely to speak up knowing that the most common reaction is going to be a dismissive “I’m sorry but never in twenty years have I seen this happen”? Even if you’ve never seen cheating, that people are acting so incredulously suggests a form of cognitive dissonance which is precisely what will enable cheating to continue. We sometimes don’t see it, because we don’t want to.

Anyway, I shall continue to monitor the comments, follow-up blogs and conversations. And, as per last month, I’ll round everything up in a “What we learned” post in a couple of weeks’ time.

Categories: UK Education Policy

5 replies

  1. Hi Laura
    The problem I think you had here is that, due to the very nature of the issue, you can’t present hard and fast evidence for this sort of thing happening. So, you can’t imagine that you could present with confidence exact figures for the number of cases, teachers, pupils or schools involved. Well, maybe you can but it would be a significant piece of longitudinal research beyond the reach of this piece of writing. I don’t doubt that what you say is true based on your conversations with teachers but without these figures (and I imagine journalistic constraints can’t have helped) you are left in the realm of possibilities, risks and suggestion. Which in turn makes it difficult to resist the dreaded comments which are based on “never in my experience”, “it wasn’t like that in my day/school”, n=1 anecdotes. Which I can imagine must be hugely frustrating for you. For these reasons I wouldn’t, personally, have taken this on myself. But you clearly have more courage than me… 😉
    There’s no excuse for the personal “Waterloo Road” comments though.
    Stay positive, and keep at it.
    All the best

    • Thanks David. Yeah, I hadn’t really thought about the fact that I was writing something in which no-one could come forward (including myself) and absolutely say “I saw this” in a very specific way. On the upside, that even a few commenters have put themselves out there and admitted to what they have seen makes me feel like it was worthwhile.

      As Shirley Williams once said, it’s not courage if you don’t see the danger, instead it’s just fearlessness based on a lack of imagination. But thanks for the support – it is appreciated. A lot. 🙂

  2. This is a very interesting topic. I remember someone posting about this on the TES forums and being absolutely annihilated by their peers who drove everyone away from the conversation by denying categorically that they have ever heard of such a thing and thereby closing the topic. It was a weird and quite upsetting thing to read when this kind of cheating was something I encountered all the time – in the mildest form it came in oblique pressure from management to get students through coursework when teachers had already done the absolute maximum they could legally do to help those students. In its worst form, it came in the form of teachers who wrote parts of student coursework for them as the only way they could achieve the ridiculous achievement targets they had been set and avoid questions of competence. I once heard a student say, “It doesn’t matter what you write because Teacher X will rewrite it for you.” And I knew that teacher X was one who was lauded for excellent results. I also have a friend who used to work in a very reputable school but decided to resign because she couldn’t live with the way they manipulated their pupils’ English coursework. Last year I left this kind of teaching after a stress meltdown, and these issues were part of the reason for that. I have never been able to tell anyone about it officially because I did not want to get staff in trouble for the way they were pushed to deal with the kinds of pressures that were being put on them to achieve inflated results.

  3. I have invigilated many exams in my time and the situation is clear to me. There has always been a form for registering incidents and a number of times I have insisted on entering details of students cheating. Worst case was a student who actually came back to the school after being asked to leave for making a noise after being caught. Student was not allowed back into the exam hall for the rest of the series as it turned out to be the third incident in two weeks.

    If I had ever come across an invigilator, teacher or any other person helping a student to cheat I would simply have entered the issue onto the register of incidents and the situation would have gone through the appropriate process. Any teacher who helps students to cheat knows the consequences if caght.

    I never saw a teacher helping a student in a public exam.

    Coursework is a different matter. I regularly saw students helped with coursework. Worst example was a teacher dictating coursework to a student who had been removed from lesson. Reported to HOD and as far as I know it never happened again.

    If all teachers could be trusted then I think coursework is a useful assessment tool, but alas in my experience this is not the case.

    Interesting discussions.

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