Exclusive: Education cheats ‘sabotage schools system’

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THE scale of cheating across the education system is revealed today by a Yorkshire Post investigation which shows thousands of university students are passing other people’s work off as their own and scores of parents are lying to get their children into better schools.

There also warnings that cheating teachers in both the region’s primary and secondary schools are undermining exam results by coaching them through tests or even doing work for them.

More than 5,000 students have submitted copied work or cheated at Yorkshire universities, according to new figures which show the problem is escalating.

Dozens of students have been kicked off their courses and hundreds more have had marks reduced to zero or been ordered to resit modules for submitting work which academics judge to have been copied, or plagiarised.

The figures have been obtained as part of a Yorkshire Post investigation into cheating throughout the education system.

We also reveal today that more than 100 parents across the region have used false information in order to deprive other children of a rightful place at an oversubscribed school in the past five years, and pressure to improve exam results is being blamed for school teachers cheating in the handling of tests.

Leading education researcher Prof Alan Smithers warned that teachers “over-aiding” pupils in both primary school tests and secondary school coursework was lessening the value of qualifications and failing young people in the education system.

He has warned that the 14 teachers in Yorkshire caught giving too much support to children in primary school tests over the past three academic years only represented a fraction of the problem.

However the most widespread instances of cheating have been found in the higher education sector where thousands of students have submitted plagiarised work at nine universities and a university college in the region.

There have been 5,133 cases where students have been found to have committed plagiarism, colluded with others or committed acts of “academic misconduct” over the past three years.

At the majority of Yorkshire’s universities which provided figures the numbers of plagiarism has risen in recent years. There was 1,900 instances of plagiarism across the region in 2009-10 compared with 1,294 in 2007-08.

University chiefs say that in many cases the student will not have intentionally cheated but will still be classed as having plagiarised work because “poor academic practice” means they have failed to properly reference sources of their material.

The sharp increase in plagiarism is being put down to the internet which allows students to cut and paste chunks of text into an essay or even order ghost-written pieces of work from websites which offer to sell academic expertise.

Universities in Yorkshire say that this technology also means that they are better equipped than ever before to identify plagiarism.

All written work handed in by university students in the region is passed through text checking software which will flag up if a passage has been written before on the internet.

However this approach does not detect work which people can pay for on-line which will have been written on request for the student with costs rising depending on whether the assignment is needed for undergraduate or postgraduate study.

Sheffield Hallam had the highest level of recorded plagiarism in Yorkshire, with more than 1,000 cases in the past two years. Leeds Metropolitan was the second highest with the number of cases rising from 377 three years ago to 532 in the last academic year.

The figures also show 49 students have been excluded from Leeds University over the past three years for the most serious cases of plagiarism while Sheffield has excluded 16 in this period.

Liz Buckton, the head of Sheffield’s Service Quality Unit said that these cases were the most serious which the university had decided needed to be dealt with through its disciplinary procedures.

She said the worst cases of plagiarism dealt with by the university included repeat offenders who had been caught more than once, students who had paid for a ghostwritten essays from a website and even work which had been stolen from other students because they had left a memory stick at a public computer. She told the Yorkshire Post that cases of students attempting to pass off a bought essay were extremely rare and happened around once a year.

Sheffield University told the Yorkshire Post it has found 25 cases of plagiarism in 2009-10. However, this does not include informal cases which were dealt with internally within that student’s department.

Sheffield Hallam’s assistant registrar for assessment, awards and registrations, Louise Richards, said: “We are a big university of over 35,000 students – the fourth biggest in the UK.

“We record and formalise all low-level cases of plagiarism that other institutions may deal with informally through tutors.

“This means that even cases of incorrect referencing or a failure to acknowledge other contributions would be recorded.

“We adopt a progressive approach, using technology available to us, with clear regulations given to staff and students to give them confidence in marking, and ensure academic integrity.”

Huddersfield University pro-vice chancellor Tim Thornton said that the majority of cases were not deliberate acts of cheating.

He said cases of plagiarism varied from students failing to properly source material they had used to people deliberately attempting to pass other people’s work off as their own. However academics have also voiced concern that the readiness of text on the internet means that even if the student is not setting out to cheat they are able to slip into poor note taking and research meaning that in some cases they cannot remember where material came from.

Bradford University’s dean of students Becka Colley said: “There has been a change in culture. When I went to university if someone wanted to plagiarise a piece of work it would have meant going to the library and finding the text and writing it all up.

“Now it is there on a screen and all they need to do is press cut and paste on their keyboard.”

More on this story in Saturday’s Yorkshire Post