Teachers asked to blow final whistle on exam cheating

13th June 2014 at 01:00
Save profession's morality and reveal malpractice, experts urge

A leading expert in assessment has called for more support for teachers who blow the whistle on their colleagues over cheating in exams and coursework, warning that the profession is losing its "morality".

Professor Robert Coe, an external adviser for exams regulator Ofqual, said it was not too late to rescue the credibility of teacher assessment from the damage caused by cheating and malpractice.

Speaking at a Westminster Education Forum conference in London this week, the Durham University academic said: "I think there is a big issue about morality here, professional morality, and how we have lost sight of the bigger picture in the profession.

"It is kind of [seen as] OK to do things that you know are wrong because everyone else is doing them. `Because I need to for the sake of my school surviving Ofsted, so therefore I am going to do these bad things.' Bad behaviour drives out the good - if other people are doing it, it is much harder to resist."

His warning came as Glenys Stacey, chief regulator of Ofqual, asked teachers to anonymously disclose the tactics that were being used to give students an "unfair advantage" in boosting their exam results.

The exam watchdog launched an online survey earlier this week to gather teachers' views on practices used by schools to "maximise" results, such as asking students to memorise mark schemes, entering pupils early for exams or focusing on areas of the curriculum that were most likely to be tested.

Ms Stacey said she wanted to ensure that new A-levels and GCSEs could "withstand these pressures while providing a level playing field for all students".

The reformed qualifications have cut internally assessed coursework to a minimum, partly because of concerns about cheating by teachers. But Professor Coe, himself a former teacher, said it was possible to find ways of keeping teacher assessment in high-stakes exams without being worried about "malpractice and cheating".

He said the marks given in such assessments could be capped according to the distribution of marks a pupil received in externally assessed exams. Spot checks could also be carried out to see if students could replicate the levels of their coursework.

Professor Coe is also calling for more help for whistle-blowers. "When there is cheating, people know there is cheating," he said. "So why don't they tell us about it? Partly because there are strong incentives for them not to, but also because there isn't really a mechanism."

This week it was reported that Ofqual had received 73 complaints from whistle-blowers about alleged exam and coursework cheating and exam board malpractice since April 2012.

Mary Bousted, general secretary of the ATL teaching union, said: "The line between cheating and intensive qualification preparation is a fuzzy one. The balance has gone too far in some schools, with teachers seen as completely responsible for the work done by pupils.

"When that is compounded by performance-related pay and progress measures which are very public and hold schools to account then there are huge pressures on teachers to behave in ways which they would prefer not to."

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