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Secret cheaters

Brian used to cheat in exams.

He was my friend at secondary school and his parents placed him under enormous pressure to do well. He was able but not especially so, and he dreaded performing badly. So he took a calculated risk.

Brian prepared crib cards with all the information he needed. The invigilators in those days were rapidly bored by walking up and down and often settled into a chair to read the paper. Brian would then sneak his cards from his pocket. I was appalled but fascinated, especially as he usually achieved his aim of finishing among the top three.

I was reminded of Brian when a primary teacher wrote to me recently, at her wits' end. "I really love my job but things are becoming intolerable," she said. "My headteacher demands that every child makes measurable progress every term, but half my class have special educational needs.

"If I don't achieve the levels he wants, I'm hauled into his room and given a dressing-down. At the end of last term I started massaging results. I felt awful, but I'm sure other teachers do it and it seemed the only way to retain my sanity."

My advice was simple. Either get together with colleagues and challenge these ridiculous demands or move to a new school. The trouble is, more and more senior managers seem to think that harassing teachers is the only way to get the results that will satisfy their governing bodies, their local authorities and Ofsted. And, of course, headteachers are under enormous pressure themselves.

I suspect that rather more "massaging" of data goes on than we care to admit. Take Sats, for example. I knew of one school that consistently achieved 100 per cent and even received a commendation and a visit from the education secretary. Since it had a similar intake to mine, with a high number of children who struggled with academic subjects, it was difficult to see how this was possible. And, in fact, it wasn't; when the headteacher moved on, it was proved that some subtle manipulation had taken place.

Another school, close to mine, was accused of cheating, and every teacher who had any involvement with Sats was rigorously interviewed. Nothing untoward was found, but the headteacher learned that hundreds of schools were inspected on suspicion of cheating every year - not something the public hears much about.

Despite random visits from advisers to check that all is above board, primary schools know how easy it is for invigilating teachers - who have a vested interest in pupils achieving high results - to surreptitiously point a finger at a careless spelling, a poorly answered question, a wrongly calculated sum. Indeed, the government has cottoned on to this, insisting that every child has to make progress each year that can be measured and recorded, with many schools using this data to calculate teachers' performance pay.

All of which means that teachers' stress levels are higher than ever before. Because some children, like Brian, simply cannot achieve the academic level demanded.

Mike Kent is a retired primary school headteacher. Email:

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