Now look who's cheating

Plagiarism is not a problem just with students. It involves lecturers too. As Stephen Jones discovered

Messages posted on the online forum are clear enough about what the originators are after: "Anyone help me with assignment 113 communication for Monday? - please help."

"I really am desperate for some help. I have one unit left on my stage 2 and I haven't a clue where to start."

"I would relly (sic) like to view some examples of stage 2 work, can you email them?"

So what's new, you ask? Students have always cheated, and these days plagiarism stories are two-a-penny.

Well yes, but then these are students with a difference. Because the quoted postings, and the many others on the TES's staffroom chat site, come from students who are also teachers.

The tasks giving them so many headaches are part of the three-stage City Guilds 7407 course which most teachers in FE have to take if they are not already qualified. Thousands attempt it each year across the country but, it seems, not all of them do so legitimately.

Many are quite brazen about what they want and why, perhaps because their real identities are hidden behind their online aliases. Sashadog, for instance, asks: "Do you have a copy of unit 115 or unit 118 that I could peek at?"

And when RichieP points out to Trexy that, as a teacher of adults with learning difficulties, his educational issues assignment probably would not be much use to her, up pops Rhiainl who asks: "Any chance I could have a read of your assignment? I've got my PGCE but I'm doing my MA SEN and teach learning difficulties in FE."

So how do these gamekeepers-turned-poachers justify it?

"I'm having a nightmare," writes Trexy. "Two babies at home, teaching, and now stage 2."

Sashadog gives us both barrels: "I returned to teaching after a 10-year gap. What I didn't expect was to be given twice the teaching workload, take on a teamlead role with no remuneration or reduction in teaching hours, and to have to attend a four-hour training session after a full day at work, to complete eight assignments plus presentations, all to be done in my own time as my employer doesn't give remission."

And the cheating possibilities don't just stop at cribbing from your internet pals. If you punch "7407 + units" into Google, you will find, - a curious little site that is part vanity publishing and part online exhibitionism. For some reason, Simon has chosen to display, amid his holiday snaps and shots of his mother's anniversary celebrations, all of his completed units on the 7407 course, even if they really don't look that good.

And then there is always the option of paying someone to do the work.

Academic Services, a rather unappetising-looking crib site with a corny mortar board logo that claims to have ready-made answers to all the City Guilds questions. Prices for individual essays start at pound;50. A cheaper alternative is on eBay, the online auction site, where Georgiopapais, among others, is offering, for 99p, a complete set of stage 1 and 2 assignments.

An example of the farce that is 7407 is provided by the following forum entry:

"I have a colleague who got through stage 2 7407 as the star of his class and didn't buy a book, barely read one and faked a lot of his references (for example, E Sharples, Northern Dialetics and Impact on Educational Integration, Coronation Publishing featured on several assignments)."

This jaundiced view of the qualification is also shared by some of the people who teach on it. One talks about the incestuous nature of the 7407 "bargain".

"It is what Bill Clinton called a triangulation. The Government wants as many people to be qualified as possible. Colleges want their staff to pass qualifications. And the staff themselves want to be qualified."

Another teacher-trainer who has been involved with the course for many years, said of plagiarism: "It doesn't surprise me.

"There is no grading given on the 7407 course, you don't get a reward for excellent work. So people are less protective of their own work. It's like helping someone else over a stile."

Both of them feel that part of the problem is that non-academic teachers - those who teach practical subjects such as carpentry or plumbing - are expected to get through an academic course.

"In the end you just have to get them through," said one. "Ultimately it's not difficult to pass, with or without plagiarism."

Back at the chatroom, Tick-tack posts an entry demonstrating that not all 7407 aspirants are quite such rogues. "Sounds like a lot of copying going on here," he (or she) shrewdly observes, adding: "Have you all tried speaking to your tutors for pointers?"

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