In court for helping pupils

3rd February 2006 at 00:00
In the battle against cheating, not even Royalty is immune from scrutiny.

Prince Harry was cleared of cheating in his exams last year after his former teacher alleged she had written most of his AS-level art coursework.

Sacked teacher Sarah Forsyth, 30, eventually won a case for unfair dismissal from Eton College. But a tribunal refused to believe her claims that she had helped the Prince with part of his project.

While this case was intriguing for the involvement of a royal student and his prestigious school, it could have occurred in any comprehensive in any area of the country.

Several heads have found themselves in court, most notably perhaps, Alan Mercer, of South Borough primary in Maidstone, Kent, who was jailed for three months in 2003 after he altered answers on key stage 2 tests and grammar school entry exams.

In many primaries such as Holy Cross juniors, in Waltham Abbey, Essex, pupils who had delighted in achieving record scores in their tests were later disqualified when investigations revealed they were given too much help, or that their answers were altered.

The pressures of achieving success filters down from teachers to students, who use ever more ingenious ways of gaining top marks. Most schools now ban mobile phones at exam time. Even the wearing of charity wristbands has been prohibited because they might conceal dates and equations underneath.

Copying and pasting scripts from the internet and using tutoring agencies to write answers is now common. Examination boards in England and Wales launch one inquiry after another into the annual round of stolen examination papers - which can fetch up to pound;1,000 - claims of changed answers, additional time given for completion of questions, and plagiarism.

In Scotland the education establishment seems to be taking a tougher line.

In future, students caught cheating in any Scottish exam will be stripped of their passes in every subject, the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) announced at the start of this year. Those who gained their marks honestly will be able to challenge the decision in court.

Already the SQA has stringent rules on prohiting candidates from communicating with each other during exams, copying work or using any book or materials other than permitted texts. Students are required to sign a declaration that their work is their own (the same applies in England), and teachers have been given detailed guidance on how to spot plagiarism.

One of the remits of the inquiry into coursework, launched by Ruth Kelly, the Secretary of State for Education, in November, was to look at ways to stamp out cheating. It followed a two-year review which showed widespread cheating among pupils, with parents routinely helping with homework - something surely everyone already knew.

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