What keeps me awake at night

14th March 2014 at 00:00
We don't cheat at our school? Think again

I couldn't believe it when I first heard the instruction. I thought to myself, "Isn't this against the rules?"

In the last academic year, my department had underperformed and a raft of new measures were introduced in an effort to improve our results. One of those tactics would lead to considerable anxiety and lasting regret.

As part of their course, students produce a written portfolio in class under controlled conditions. It counts towards their final grade and each child writes in response to tasks prescribed by the exam board. When these folders were complete, it was decided that key students should redo their pieces. This was well within the board's guidelines. However, students are not allowed to simply rewrite the same set task; they must attempt a new one. I was instructed to break this rule.

I was told that students should look again at their original responses, and edit and improve them before copying them out for assessment. I would then mark each piece and watch as the grades went up.

How was this justified? Other departments in other schools were doing it, I was told. So not acting in the same way would be doing our students a disservice. If everyone else was doing it, why shouldn't we?

After years of careful attention and strict adherence to the exam board's requirements, I was astounded. It was a breach of trust between the department, our students, the board and our colleagues in schools up and down the country who take pains to abide by the rules.

It was unfair to tell professionals to behave so dishonourably. If I did what was asked of me, I would be acting against my own conscience. If I refused, I risked being singled out as someone failing to support the department in its hour of need. The pressure to fall in line was intense.

Sadly, I succumbed. I fell in line and decided to break the rules. When the time finally came to carry out my deceit, a student in my class enquired, "Isn't this cheating?" Almost as soon as she had said the words, she corrected herself, adding: "Of course not. We don't cheat at our school." My heart sank.

I should have refused. I should have acted according to my conscience. But I didn't and I have regretted my failure ever since.

The writer is a teacher in the South of England

Tell us what keeps you awake at night

Email jon.severs@tes.co.uk

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