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But Everyone Else Is Doing It - Children, Cheating and the SATs

As SATs week draws to a close I want to reflect on my experiences this week as a Year Six teacher. Perhaps I’ve been lucky in many ways; my children haven’t left the exam hall in tears, nor have they been stressed before each test. In fact, we have all entered this week feeling well prepared for the tests – they’ve not dominated our learning in the run-up to the tests and we’ve continued as ‘normal’. This meant that, like the children, I approached this week in a relaxed manner.


…despite this I have instead found it to be an incredibly stressful few days. To be honest, I’m not sure I’ve ever felt the pressure regarding tests that I have this week. And that’s with this year’s, interim, incompetently run DfE tests.

Irrespective of my confidence regarding knowing where the children are in terms of ability and their expected performance based on my extensive experience, this week has shown what I can only describe as the ‘lowest common denominator’ in terms of the behaviour of the staff around me and a certain ‘Well, every one else is doing it’ approach to barefaced cheating in the SATs.

On Monday I naively admitted to colleagues that, when circling the exam hall on invigilation duty, I had seen some children had made careless errors. Since then I have been ‘encouraged’ - daily - to point these errors out to the children. From colleagues who have suggested, ‘Just tap the table’ to others who have prompted me to, ‘Put your finger on the question where there’s an error’ to a few who have even told me to, ‘Crouch down and whisper to them that they’ve made a mistake on question x’. In fact, the entire senior management have separately ‘checked’ with me that I have been ‘… ensuring no silly errors have slipped through’ and that I have been ‘pointing out mistakes to the children’.

Or, in other words, cheating.

I have unequivocally refused and rebuffed all of these ‘helpful suggestions’, but still colleagues have persisted, invariably coupled with that playground staple – ‘But everyone else does it’. I’ve even - and this really galls - been told that I’m not doing the best for my class, an accusation which is possibly the hardest thing to take as I pride myself in always endeavouring to do the very best for every class I’ve ever had. Perhaps I’ve taken the cowardly approach but as the week has progressed I’ve entered the staffroom less and less (although the refuge my class provided hasn’t been fool proof as colleagues have come to ‘see how it’d gone’, followed by their free advice on how to ensure it went really very well indeed!).

Personally, the result of this stress has been:

  • Lack of sleep – I’m getting less than 4 hours a night;
  • Overeating – my chocolate intake has increased dramatically;
  • Muscle cramps – especially during/causing my fitful sleeping;
  • A downturn in my mood – it’s been pointed out at home that I’m quieter than usual;
  • A constant inner turmoil – I know I’m doing the right thing. I simply won’t cheat. But, all the same…

And so, hopefully understandably, I was looking forward to the end of SATs and a return to normality, but then a different bombshell was dropped on me. Despite having spent all year improving my class’s writing for the KS2 Writing Assessment (teacher-assessed without any test this year) and despite having folders of evidence for every child and despite having followed the clear expectations that the children’s work is their own, this was all going to be abandoned.

The expectation is that their work will be rewritten and, in the process, heavily edited by me in order that all children will pass the floor test, whether or not they have the skills and ability to pass the floor test.

Apart from the obvious legal and ethical implications of this (‘But, hey, everyone else is doing it’) children who require support at secondary school, from their first day, will not receive it as they’d be ‘at the standard expected'. Worse still, it will further erode the trust that barely exists between primaries and secondaries in my area, with secondary colleagues already stating they don’t trust primary teacher assessment anyway* – and that was under the old, levelled system, not the new improved, unproven system.

So, what to do? Pass the chocolate and the Zantac.

My stance on cheating – I simply won’t – means that I’m not being expected to carry out this rewriting. Yet it is still wrong. It is still cheating. And, from what I’m picking up, it will result in members of the SLT delivering 'intervention' to my class.

I don’t believe that the line ‘Everyone else is doing it’ is acceptable. It is contrary to all I teach children inside and outside of the classroom. However, what about schools with less experienced, or more unscrupulous, colleagues who succumb to the pressure? Or what about those teachers who simply see it as part of their role?

Moreover, what does this sort of pressure say about a system that is clearly designed to force political will, such as academisation, not only onto schools, but onto staff and, worse still, onto children?

For my part, I am able to sleep at night, if only metaphorically. I know that I might have ‘let my children down’ in the eyes of some, but if I’d cheated to achieve a result I’d have done far worse. In my opinion, better that every child in my class fails (how can that be a term even be used for 10/11 year olds?) than even one of them passes with undue help from me because ‘everyone else is doing it’.

* And yes, I know of secondary colleagues in large ‘successful’ academy chains’ who are cheating like the best of them. [ITL]

The writer is an experienced and successful year six teacher in an inner-city state primary school.  

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