‘I’m teaching – and I’m cheating’: confessions of a primary Sats teacher

“The system is defective and discredited,” says a teacher who admits pressure to meet exam targets has made him twist the rules in The Guardian

Kaitlyn calls me over. “I’m not sure how to do this question, Miss,” she mumbles, looking at me pleadingly. Connor already has his head on the desk, refusing to answer a single question in the maths Sat. “It’s too hard,” he says. I’ve left the teaching assistant struggling with him, offering to read him the questions.

Looking round the room, I size up my chances of hitting that all-important 65% of kids achieving the “expected” level in maths, reading and writing. Ten of the 28 have to be factored out. Some have special needs, others come from dysfunctional homes and a couple have been distracted by tragedy. Makayla’s mother died of cancer only four months ago and Noah is poised to be taken into care.

By end of the test, I reckon I’ve helped just about all the borderline children. I’ve never told them an answer, but I might have done enough to get some to that “expected” level. After all, England expects. Certainly the higher-ups in our academy chain expect.

Assessed writing in year 6 is supposed to be independent. It is also, thanks to former education secretary Michael Gove, supposed to show that children can, for example, use a semi-colon, a prepositional phrase, a fronted adverbial, the passive voice and modal verbs. I reckon 20% of my class could do that on a good day. But I must achieve 65%.

So the children draft and redraft their work. Sometimes they write on whiteboards before copying into their books, allowing me to correct their more outrageous spelling mistakes and to suggest that maybe something should happen in their story. Sometimes I photocopy their work to correct mistakes. Sometimes I’ll ask a teaching assistant to go through and mark mistakes with Post-it Notes. Or sometimes I use my PPA [planning, preparation and assessment] time to sit and scribe for a child who can tell a story but struggles to write it. None of this is allowed. But it is invisible, leaving no clue that the writing has not been independent.

So I’m teaching – and cheating. Great. And the Sats results are not reliable, particularly for borderline children. But we have known this for years. The system is defective and discredited. Those of us in it are just doing what we’ve got to do. The only question I cannot answer in this year’s Sats is why they are allowed to continue.

Read more ‘I’m teaching – and I’m cheating’: confessions of a primary Sats teacher

Have you found yourself in the same situation, bending the rules just slightly? Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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Categories: Exams, Primary and Secondary.


  1. Mike Bell

    Whenever targets are set, the system responds in curious ways to meet the targets.
    Somehow we never seem to learn.

  2. gavin

    Unfortunately this is the reality of teaching in an outcomes driven system, however enhancing your outcomes has a direct impact on the Secondary schools teachers who will now also be judged, castigated or sacked based on progression from the false baseline you created for them. Unfortunately my experience is that some pupils come into secondary schools with ridiculous KS2 levels. While I appreciate that teaching at any level is very hard it is wrong to massage your own results to stitch up those that who come after.

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