How fair is that tutor?

4th June 2004 at 01:00
Cheating. Not a nice word. Not a nice concept really. It's a bit more sophisticated these days, apparently - you can buy work off the internet and do all sorts of clever things like that. And there is no doubting that copying someone's work in order to achieve something you either aren't able to do - or choose not to bother to do - is immoral.

But it occurred to me to question a friend who relies heavily on her creative writing tutor. She is having an amazing run of success in various writing competitions. But her tutor conscientiously reads, edits, criticises and improves the piece of writing. He is being the perfect teacher - pointing out where my friend is going wrong, and showing her how to improve it.

I paid for a tutor for my son, when his maths grade fell dramatically - in direct ratio to his improving guitar skills, I might add, and not because of bad teaching. I was able to afford it, but how fair was that? He was failing because he was larking about, no other excuse.

So when does being a supportive parent who helps with homework become the parent who virtually writes the assignment - and what does the teacher do when that happens?

We don't want competition between pupils any more - the very opposite. We encourage them to work together. When I'm finding strategies to help dyslexic pupils, one of the best is sitting next to a friend who will support them when they get muddled.

And OK, having the good luck to have an excellent teacher isn't cheating - but it doesn't half give an advantage.

So year after year, kids fail who shouldn't - except, of course, for those who were in a retired colleague's class. She had a reputation for excellent results - until we realised how she marked their talks. Telling her to "eff off!" seemed to justify a credit mark, if the pupil used enough expression.

And that was cheating - and made life harder for the rest of us.

I like the way kids help each other out and I like it when a teacher cares enough to go the extra mile to get kids through their exams - and often that extra mile goes unnoticed, even by the pupil walking it. I like it when parents help with their children's homework - up to a point.

But it's a damn unfair world out there - and it often seems that those with the least complain the least, and just accept their lot. Homework clubs, after-school library access and study groups seek to even things out.

Few teachers have the time to help their pupils as the creative writing tutor did, and few would deem it proper to do so. But maybe we do need to be aware that some pupils are in classes where a helping hand is necessary, and isn't cheating.

It simply makes it fairer for all.

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