The truth is, it's all lies

17th February 2012 at 00:00

Last month I registered with an accountant. Apparently mentioning a Mulberry bag in a column doesn't make it a legitimate expense; nor can I claim for dog food, iTunes invoices, oestrogen pills, hair dye or drawer liners from TK Maxx. He swiftly poured ice water on my "if I write about it, I can claim for it" theory and before I could say, "Bob's my research assistant" he'd reduced my tatty heap of receipts to an off-peak return to London and a year's subscription to TES.

I was amazed to find such integrity; it's just a shame it was in my accountant. Next time I get a tax return, I'll see if I can go Greek. My wanting to pass off a few household receipts as bona fide expenses places me at the centre of a growing social malaise. No one tells the truth any more; honesty is as old-fashioned as wearing callipers or a longline bra, and equally restrictive.

So it's hardly surprising that the Edelman Trust Barometer, which measures public confidence in government, media, business and other organisations, has just reported a significant decline in trust. Some time over the past few years, we gave up believing in truth as an absolute value, and replaced it with a sliding scale of veracity.

Nowadays even good old Mamp;S, that last bastion of high-street honour, is as cavalier with the truth as it is with its tape measures. How else can you look like a baobab tree and fit into a size 12 skirt? I'm guessing you'd have to have a feeder and your own documentary crew before they'd give you a size 16.

And teachers are just as bad. We stretch the truth like we stretch kids' grades. We tick work we've never read and write reports about kids we can't remember teaching. And when it comes to assessment, we prop up A- level coursework with more scaffolding than Grand Designs and hand out glittering GCSEs for best supporting actor to kids whose performances are so dull that even the ADHD kids fall asleep. But since we've all had our fingers in the same pie, it hasn't seemed quite so immoral. But the new controlled assessments have just put paid to that.

Last week, a friend who tutors two private-school pupils turned up for her weekly cramming session to discover that the kids were in the middle of "learning off by heart" their controlled assessment essays. Their class teacher had given them corrected versions to regurgitate at school the next day. Now that's impressive dishonesty; no wonder Gove wants the private sector to mentor state academies.

If we're going to cheat in education then we have to do it fairly, otherwise the system falls apart. It's like playing the childhood card game "Cheat", where you lie about the value of your cards in a race to empty your hand. But even in a game whose raison d'etre is cheating, everyone has to abide by the same set of rules; a distinction my older sister never quite got. In Cheat, and in teaching, there's a world of difference between socially normative cheating such as playing a three and calling it a jack, or taking a D+ and calling it a C, and shoving - as my sister did - all the aces down her bra.

What makes this particular deception even worse is that these two kids already have legitimate "cheats" on their side - namely several private tutors and parents who are wedged. At least with linear exams, teachers won't be able to give kids marked cards or produce A*s from under the table.

Anne Thrope (Ms) is a secondary teacher in the North of England.

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