Secret Teacher: how I became trapped in the cheating game

This week’s Secret Teacher in the Guardian says that from inflating predicted grades to over-helping with coursework, teachers are being pressured into playing the system to get results…

Some years ago I was called by my head of department to discuss the grades I’d predicted for a year 11 class. They were aspirational and realistic. I was told to change them. My forecast was not in line with school targets for A*-C so if I didn’t change them I would be “targeting failure”. I changed them.

I’ve got young kids, a mortgage and could do without the stress of a capability procedure. Morals don’t pay the bills. The class achieved close to my original prediction. I was admonished over my underperformance and the inaccuracy of my predictions – the predictions which weren’t actually mine at all. Following so far? Good. Because that’s target-driven education; a farce.

This September, Birendra Singh, who spent five years observing science teaching in three unnamed London schools, told BBC News that “the rate of cheating suggested in [my] small study may be indicative of a bigger picture”. He was right. It’s epidemic.

We’ll go to epic lengths to fiddle controlled assessment. We’ll enter whatever number we need to make the spreadsheet turn green regardless of whether a kid has done the work. Until recently, we’d lie about pupils’ speaking and listening scores (easy pickings – nobody ever checked) to boost them to a C. In short, we remove every last scrap of accountability from the pupil and pull every trick in the book to make sure “they achieve their potential”.

The result? There’s a demographic of our children with little cognitive link between hard work and achievement – that hard work leads to achievement. It doesn’t matter if you work hard or not, you’ll get the grade anyway and we’ll parade you under the banner of “improving standards”.

Through little fault of their own, young adults in England have scored among the lowest results in the industrialised world in international literacy and numeracy tests. The sad fact that no government will ever acknowledge is that these youngsters are in fact an entirely logical product of the educational culture that now claims to be shocked at their existence.

It’d be easy to write me off at this point as another embittered cynic. I care, though. I’m considered one of the best at what I do. I lead whole-school initiatives and have great relationships with most of my pupils. And, I believe in accountability. I don’t know any teacher worth their salt who’d baulk at the notion of being accountable for what goes on in their classroom. But when measuring progress, accountability only works when it’s from an honest starting point and it has to be a two-way street.

It’s too easy to cast judgment on my senior leadership team, Ofsted or even successive education ministers for this dire situation. In frontline education and politics there are well-meaning, hard-working individuals who are burdened with tremendous responsibilities, mountainous workloads and vehement criticism from dissenting groups. Too much criticism voiced against either side is counter-productive and hate-inspired…

I suppose I should offer some kind of a solution – if only so I can’t be labelled another whinging teacher with no alternative to what I oppose. OK, we should admit we’ve gone wrong, end the damaging culture of cheating and be allowed to assess with honesty and integrity. We need to redress the balance of accountability and have all political parties sit down and agree a framework that allows education policies to be set by an independent body protected by law and free from political meddling; a unified coalition between parents, schools, children and government…

More at: Secret Teacher: how I became trapped in the cheating game

Some very strong words in this extract – what do you think? Do you agree with the Secret Teacher’s arguments and how would you suggest turning the situation around? Please share in the comments or via Twitter…

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  1. andylutwyche

    SchoolsImprove I say this at least once every week: data obsession the cause of this. League table position and Ofsted at the heart of it

  2. willott333

    SchoolsImprove my concerns are some schools are only interested in A*-C kids. However some of these don’t actually fall into this cohort1/2

  3. willott333

    SchoolsImprove 2/2 some are a victim of over inflated predictions. stress to the teacher & student. Plus every child goes out the window!!!

  4. Coldpigeon

    willott333 SchoolsImprove not every child, just those that won’t make a C #geddit serious point though sorry for flippancy

  5. willott333

    Coldpigeon SchoolsImprove ha ha, I hate limited characters! Sch’s are forced to prioritize, this is wrong every child is as important!!

  6. Coldpigeon

    willott333 SchoolsImprove every child matters is still being muttered by the gov, but funding doesn’t seem to match up

  7. rhachellb

    SchoolsImprove education should be about students achieving. Not a school’s results or league tables. #fedupwiththesystem

  8. helenreesbidder

    SchoolsImprove I don’t buy this. If a teacher admits to cheating they should be out of the profession. Making up CA marks is disgraceful.

  9. Disillusioned

    I work in a school where teachers cheat. I am being hounded out because i objected to it. Education in the UK is broken and no-one wants to admit it.

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