Exam system ‘being undermined by staff’ as pupils helped

Teachers  who give students too much help in tests and coursework are the tip of the iceberg according to an expert.
Teachers who give students too much help in tests and coursework are the tip of the iceberg according to an expert.
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SCHOOLTEACHERS who are caught cheating by giving students too much help in tests and coursework are “the tip of the iceberg” according to an education expert who has warned that problem is undermining the country’s exam system.

There have been 14 cases in the past three years where teachers in Yorkshire were found to have given pupils inappropriate levels of help to pupils during standard assessment tests (SATs) at primary school, according to exam chiefs.

The figures, obtained by the Yorkshire Post, also reveal that some results have been annulled at nine different primary schools in the region because of “maladministration” during these tests.

In the most extreme case this resulted in a headteacher losing his job and more than 120 sets of children’s test scores being annulled. Peter Habberjam was sacked from his post at Airedale Junior School, in Castleford and later banned from the profession for nine months for intervening to help pupils in their SATS.

A General Teaching Council hearing into the case, two months ago, found that Mr Habberjam had prepared information sheets for staff to read out to pupils during English tests, helped pupils answer questions in a reading test and even challenged a teacher for not preventing a child from writing a story instead of a report.

His case in 2009 was one of 14 examples of “test administrators over-aiding pupils” in the region’s primary schools.

However leading academic Prof Alan Smithers said: “These figures will be the tip of the iceberg and represent something being done which is so obvious that they have been caught.”

Prof Smithers, director of the centre for education and employment research at Buckingham University warned that teachers helping pupils to pass tests was widespread in both primary and secondary schools.

He added: “The problem is that these tests are used to measure the teacher and the school. The results could mean the school is closed down or merged and as such they should only be carried out by independent assessors.

“If you have a situation in primary school tests or with coursework at secondary schools where teachers are able to help the pupil then, human nature being what it is, those teachers will find ways of improving the results. “

He said that the massive expansion of students sitting coursework-based GCSE equivalent qualifications, from around 15,000 students five years ago to almost half a million last year, cast a question mark over GCSE results improving year-on-year.

Teachers from across the region have contacted the Yorkshire Post to speak anonymously about the problem of cheating at their school, at both primary and secondary level.

One said she had quit her job and primary school teaching after becoming disillusioned by cheating in SATs tests.

After six years working in her local school as a classroom assistant she became a teacher. However, following a year in the job she decided she wanted to quit after witnessing staff being urged to help pupils to pass tests.

She said: “The new headteacher came in and told a member of staff, whom I respected very highly and who had been my mentor as a teacher, to help the pupils during the tests by giving thumbs up or down signals or frowning and taking a sharp intake of breath to let pupils know whether they had got a question right or wrong. A lot of the staff knew about it but people are scared to speak out.”

Secondary school teachers from Yorkshire, who have asked to remain anonymous, have also flagged up several examples of staff helping pupils to pass B-Tec qualifications by doing some of the work for them.