Teachers, ‘Cheating’ and ‘Selling’ Achievement

Does your school have a quasi ‘delivery unit’? If you’re not sure what this looks like or might be, a D.U. can be known by its actions. Do you have members of staff setting targets for other members of staff and also pupils to deliver? The delivery unit believes in continual improvement for the school: the figures are expected to climb, therefore your results are. Different children every year are expected to perform better than children did the year before. This means that although every year the children change, the school is expected to improve, the children are not the reason for this improvement, the school is.  This is not teacher centred or child centred education, it is school centred, and with statistical modelling it will be school eat school out there.

That performance related pay might make the teacher more of a focus than the school is not a heart warming prospect. Stressed teachers becoming the focus of the exam season, ready to fall on their red pens for the good of the school is not going to alleviate the problem.

As grades are currency in the real world it is always good to hear of children doing well, getting on a course, getting an interview, getting a job that they wouldn’t have got were it not for that ‘B’…


If the child is but a cog in an exam machine we can but wonder if the child that got on the course clutching their B to their bosom is the same child that the new course teacher expects them to be. The more a school or teacher does for a pupil in order to get them through the exam there has to come a point where the exam is not really down to the pupil at all. This means that the exam currency for the pupil is destabilised. For some Higher Education providers this will only be alleviated by ignoring or paying scant attention to grades and by setting up their own entrance tests and also through their interview processes.

Glenys Stacey, the outgoing Chief Executive of Ofqual, bemoans the fact that: “There isn’t an ethical code for teachers… Teachers are in an invidious position at times and where is the guidance?”

This quote comes from an article in the Times, which also reports that the ethical ‘grey areas’ include around thirty things and that there is no clear agreement about them, here is a flavour:

Discussing what might come up in exams.

Not teaching all the syllabus to focus on likely exam topics.

Focusing help on “borderline” pupils.

Encouraging pupils to memorise mark schemes.

Choosing qualifications to improve place in school league tables.

Entering pupils early for exams to allow resits.

Switching to an ‘easier’ exam board.

Telling pupils to use revision guides not textbooks.

Encouraging pupils to rote-learn answers.

Giving hints to pupils during controlled assessment. 

A lot of these are common practice in many schools, we could also add teaching GCSEs over three or even more years, teaching ‘easier’ and ‘shorter’ texts year upon year and weekend/after school ‘drilling’ of targeted pupils, and a myriad of other maybe ‘ethically dodgy’ practices.

Added to this problem we have some in education who feel the practices of psychology cults and sales conventions have more relevance to schools than do meetings of groups of academics discussing their subjects. Tracking progress, diagnostics, therapy, incentivising, action planning, targeted assessment, are all ideas that might better suit a sales force out to rip off old age pensioners in middle England than they do an educational institution, but these are the terms being bandied about in schools that have fallen for the hype. For example, over at the PIXL Club webpage I am sure some people positively bubble over with excitement because there are: student centred personalised learning checklists, and that there are ways of:  enabling individual student PPE marks to be automatically populated into a Smith Pro Forma so that student insecurities are accurately identified. And that: software to support student-centred personalised learning checklists is available, as well as pro-forma to ensure: that student insecurities are accurately identified, along with the very necessary: Interactive methods to enable staff to identify student insecurities. This language of diagnosis, therapy and testing is a sad indictment of what is occurring in our schools, yet it is one that is on the increase.

I once went on a course and learned how to sell double glazed replacement windows. I became very good at it, I was able to sell the products to people who probably didn’t want them and might not even have had a need for them, but my figures were good therefore I must have been successful. Later, I had a crisis of conscience and left. If one can make someone buy something that they might not be able to afford or have no need of, should one? Should a school involve itself with practices that belong more to a sales team than they do teaching? Should schools be using practices that, arguably, are less to do with pupils knowing about and excelling in the pursuit of wisdom and more to do with narrower indicators of performance from day one? I could sell windows; should schools ‘sell’ achievement?

If  Glenys Stacey got her way and there was an ethical code for teachers would we be tolerating the cultish sales crew behaviour that is gaining ground in our midst?

9 thoughts on “Teachers, ‘Cheating’ and ‘Selling’ Achievement

  1. Great post & I really like the sales comparison. It seems poignant. I am sure in the UK you should be concerned by this. Here in NZ it is worse. We can bring in an outside provider to run an easy 2 day course that will get students enough credits as a full year of classical studies (though it won’t get them into Uni)! Since when did failure become a bad thing in the process of learning?


  2. I really enjoyed reading this blog. One thing to watch is that we don’t trivialise the ‘diagnosis therapy test’ which is actually the fundamentals of good teaching/assessment for learning. De-badged this means teach, then test, then fill in the gaps that students have not fully grasped. It’s popular to be anti Pixl but acutually the’ Pixl’ principles are akin to mastery principles. Move on once they have mastered. Anyway as I said I enjoyed the blog but not nearly as much as your other more contentious one on the rise of the stupid teacher which I enjoyed twice over on the bounce.


  3. Superb post – absolutely spot on. This is the inevitable result when academic priorities are replaced with institutional ones. It seems to have been forgotten that the origins of the word ‘academic’ are allied to the notion of disinterest. Now we only have *self* interest.


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