A lot of fuss is being generated this week following revelations by undercover Daily Telegraph reporters that Examination Boards are stepping over an imaginary line and giving inside information about upcoming exams to teachers who pay £200 to attend their day courses. An investigation is under way. I’ll save you the bother.
For goodness sake, does anyone still think that the quarter of a century’s worth of year on year increase in the GCSEs and A level exam results was the result of good teaching and the hard work of pupils?
I have taught Computing, ICT, Chemistry, Physics, Biology (even Psychology for a while) at A level for 30 years. I have been an ICT-syllabus developer for an exam board doing some work to introduce some open source software balance into the curriculum. I have taught subjects with end of year exams, modular exams and all course-work qualifications. I never went into management and still teach in class. So I may know a little about how it works.
Get this into your heads folks; cheating is endemic in our exam system.
It occurs because of two drivers. The first affects schools that compete for an exam league table position and the second affects examination boards that compete for business from schools.
I’ll take them in order:
Schools once taught a subject which was eventually subject to a public examination, as competition hotted up they started teaching to the board’s syllabus and nothing else, later they taught to the exam. This latter point is hard for the lay person to understand but the art of getting good marks is to interpret a syllabus in the way that an exam board would express it in questions. Finally, ultimately, the best advantage is to be gained if you teach to how the exam boards mark their questions.
The latter of course was only available for past papers or exemplars produced for ‘guidance and support’ published in the boards’ text books and ‘resources’. This is not yet cheating but there is not far to go as you will realise. Just understand, if you don’t buy these resources your pupils will be at a disadvantage in the exam.
For a good teacher non-attendance at the exam board’s briefings on this years ‘emphasis’ in ICT was examination suicide. It only cost £150 then though.
However, when it comes to course-work the line is often crossed. I have taught ICT at a school which was in the top 20 highest achieving schools in the UK. Quite simply it was expected that ‘guidance and support’ would ensure that all the pupils would get A* for their course work.
This is cheating but not unusual. I left and wrote to the board ... no effect see next paragraph.
When I was contributing to ICT development (unsuccessfully so don’t blame me for the rubbish out there) we had very select meetings. The first part was usually a commercial briefing showing how our exam was being taken up by schools and how other competitor exam vendors were doing. Our ICT was in free-fall (still is I guess).
The main thrust of our development was to increase uptake ... how could we ‘support and guide’ schools to achieve the best results for their students. We did not cross the line to cheating (I don’t think) but no-one was concerned about what the students should learn only about how easy it could be made.
So, it’s only a tiny step to the cheating line now. If only we teachers had a steer to the thrust of the upcoming mark-scheme. How much better our students will do. Don’t be surprised when you read that this line has been is being routinely crossed.
I know I can be cynical and insensitive but I know also that readers of this post worry about the state of our education especially technical education. Celebrate the improvement in education results if you wish, all those A grades but don’t complain when no-one wants to employ their owners ... now you know why.
We need a complete reform of the examination system. The systematic conflict of interests set up through competitive commercial examinations and school league tables means that neither institution even bother to worry about acting in the kid’s interests. That comes way down the list of priorities.