LibLink Layla Moran: Public school exam cheating row shows just how unlevel the playing field is

Oxford West and Abingdon MP Layla Moran has been writing for Times Red Box about the exam cheating scandal and why it matters.

These are not victimless crimes. I feel especially sorry for those students whose grades were nullified. They were only doing what their teacher said and their future has now been compromised. The teachers involved should feel ashamed. There is also a wider societal impact. More people than expected gaining high grades can ultimately lead to grade inflation and then a re-banding of passes, making it harder for other pupils to gain a good result.

But there is a broader question of unfairness here. Pupils from state schools are already massively pushing up hill on that famous playing field (assuming, of course, their playing field has not been sold off to balance the books by a cash-strapped education authority).

Layla has some suggestions for action:

So, what is to be done? We need to hold those responsible to account. I believe the heads of the three schools at the centre of this controversy should be called before the education select committee to explain whether these incidents were the result of a lone member of staff acting beyond their authority – or whether, in the hot house atmosphere of private schools competing for the fees of wealthy parents – there is a culture of pushing the rules to the absolute limit, and in some cases, beyond.

We also need to look at whether the independent sector is sufficiently regulated or whether further safeguards are needed. These schools compete on a world stage for fee paying students. It’s a lucrative business. How much is that A** or 9 worth to them? How much does their standing in the league tables drive this behaviour? What decisions taken at the top encourage staff to break the rules and how can we mitigate against them? We need answers and we need them now.

 

You can read the whole article here (£).

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7 Comments

  • I’ve just retired after having taught in four independent schools and one comprehensive school. There is certainly no culture other than that of doing our best for our pupils, I’m afraid that Layla’s implication that there might be a culture of cheating is, quite frankly, insulting to dedicated professionals who, believe it or not, exist in the independent sector too.

    She is very much mistaken if she thinks the top schools compete for parents. Parents compete for places at the schools. Layla should also know that many independent schools do not publish their very good examination results in league tables because they do not agree with such a crude way of measuring a school’s worth.

    If she wants to look for ‘cheating’, the focus should be on schools which enter weak candidates as private candidates in public examinations to ensure their league position is not affected by poor results.

  • Methinks Paul doth protest too much. Layla’s comments are reasonable after the Eton and Winchester fiasco. She is simply saying

    I also fail to see how the public schools can continue to have charitable status which gives in effect, a public subsidy of over £ 700 million per year to the wealthiest parents (including foreign billionaires) in the country.

    It would also be healthy if Ofsted took over from the Independent Schools Inspectorate to apply common standards, given that ISI is an in-house arrangement. All a bit too cosy to scrutinise your own cartel.

  • David Evershed 1st Sep '17 - 5:20pm

    Surely teachers in state schools who help set exam questions can also leak the questions to pupils in their own school, just the same as teachers in public schools?

    We need to know how widespread is the practice and in which schools (state or public) that it is taking place. Then stamp it out.

  • “These schools compete on a world stage for fee paying students. It’s a lucrative business. How much is that A** or 9 worth to them?

    Quite so. When education becomes a for-profit business last year’s results become one of the most potent marketing tools.

    And it’s not just schools. With universities competing to attract debt-funded students while also setting their own exams what could possibly go wrong?

    Grade inflation of course. The proportion of firsts has more than trebled since 1994.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-40654933

    Another neoliberal triumph (/sarc) which cannot end well.

  • What an unexpected side effect of turning schools into exam factories. Totally unforeseeable, who would have thought by elevating exams to the be all and end all we would have cheating and throwing low achievers out of school; I’m shocked I tell you shocked.

  • Peter Hirst 2nd Sep '17 - 6:15pm

    It reflects the lack of transparency and accountability in these schools. There should be a charter that all schools conform to. Some independent body needs to have the power to discover and deter these happenings.

  • I share Layla’s concerns, but I am not sure it is simply an independent-schol issue. It has often been said that having a teacher who is a examiner gives students an advantage, and textbooks often trumpet the fact that an examiner-author is giving special insights. I guess that in any school a teacher might be tempted to steer the revision in a particular direction through ‘spot questions’ and maybe sometimes the spot questions are not entirely innocent. The best rule would be for teachers to have to set questions for exam boards not used by their particular school, but this might have some practical difficulties, because asyllabuses vary and setting questions might be more appropriate for teachers who have taught those syllabuses. More thought on this issue is needed.

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