When does doing your best become cheating?

In the recent January Maths GCSE exams foundation pupils had to get 17 more marks out of 200 than they did last Summer to a get a grade ‘C’. So if they apply for a college place in a few years time and their next door neighbour, 18 months older with exactly the same Maths ability, is also applying it is likely the elder boy will get the place as this year’s student will have a lower GCSE grade. This whole situation was better explained that I could manage by William Stewart in the TES this week

Yet at the same time the schools are under ever increasing pressure to get more of their pupils the magic 5 A* – C (Including English and Maths). It is like the government is both turning up the heat and pushing down on the saucepan lid at the same time. I mean, we may squeeze out some more ‘C’ grades in the short term, but sooner or later the pot will explode. This is not a sustainable situation. Schools have a choice; head teachers have an important decision to make. Do they continue to play the game to curry favour with their overseers? Or do they come clean and take the honest and truthful path by bravely stepping away from the present day preoccupation with data, predicted grades, FFT and headline figures?

I am not a member of SLT and am no longer a governor, so that dilemma is not mine. But I can tell you what it looks like from the classroom. This Year’s Year 11 are already more dead on their feet than I have ever seen, they are more concerned, stressed and pale looking than before – and its only April. They have been entered early to Maths in January. If they get their predicted grades then they stop studying that subject, and if they didnt they can take the exam again.

For English there is another wheeze that the Guardian’s Secret Teacher pointed out. I am not an English teacher, so please read it to get a proper grasp of what is going on. But the short of it is that someone has found out that one exam board syllabus is easier to get a grade ‘C’ at so it is worth entering your ‘D’ grade students into that one.

Now I bet you that if you asked a head teacher in a school that was trying one or other (or possibly even both) of these schemes, then they would tell you that they are only doing the best for themselves. Others might question whether that headline figure of 5 A* – C including English and Maths might have something to do with it. After all with a higher figure, schools will have a better chance of either delaying an OFSTED inspection or getting a higher grade in one. so why wouldn’t you consider it?

One problem with this approach is that it is undermining the importance of other subjects that are not English and Maths. Teachers of these subjects are feeling less valued and presumably pupils are looking at the subjects in the same way.

But that is not my point. I want to know what effect this is all having on these 15 and 16 year olds. If English is so important, what are the A, B, E, F and G students thinking as they see some of their peers getting extra time and help in this key subject? If Maths is so crucial to their futures, why is not worth the whole year group re-taking? Pupils know what is going on, they can see that a GAME IS BEING PLAYED HERE.

And it is being played with them. Secret teacher is right, they are being reduced to statistics. They don’t count as actual people. Teachers have been moaning at Michael Gove for this. But how can schools claim the moral high ground, when the pressures pupils are increasingly under play second fiddle to getting the right set of results for only of their pupils? This isn’t playing fair or clean; it is playing the system.

But worse, if all the pupils know that some are being entered for an exam as it is easier to get a ‘C’ grade in that syllabus, then  how can we hold ourselves and our school up as a paragon of virtue? And what are we telling our young people about how to get on in life? Is success at something so vital that all rules must be bent and loop holes exploited? Is the only way to get on in life to sneak your way to where you want to be? Does doing your best include not getting caught at cheating?

The way it looks to me is that we are educating children to see the world as somewhere where your own success is more vital than how you achieve it, that winning at all costs isn’t such a bad way of living. We are creating a generation of people who wont mind pulling a fast one on someone else to get what they want. It is up to schools, to teachers, to governors and to head teachers to take a moral stance. Otherwise we are not doing our job properly.

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2 thoughts on “When does doing your best become cheating?

  1. I totally agree. The focus on the C/D groups and the multiple board entries is understandable given the focus on league tables, but I am dubious about the claim that it is in the best interest of the students. If you are a particularly unfortunate C/D student, in some schools you may find yourself doing 2 boards for maths, 2 for English and Core, Additional and BTEC science. How could this level of repetition be in the student’s interest, particularly as only one qualification from each subject will count for college or employers. The knock-on effect on the other subjects is likely to be serious.

    You also mentioned the ‘easier’ English syllabus. The way that it was presented to me was that it was not easier per se, instead the marking rewards a particular type of response which can be easily taught and replicated, and there is still coursework which can be redrafted. Not surprisingly, this is a board which is very popular with the private schools.

    • Your comment about the choice of board does ring true bearing in mind other points I have heard made about it. As for multiple board entries I too believe that it is primarily for the benefit of the school and its pass rate. Thank you for taking the time to reply

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