From parents lying to get their children into ‘good’ schools, to schools lying and cheating to improve their image, from pupils lying to protect themselves from unfair discipline and judgements, to teachers covering their backs, dishonesty and lack of integrity are part of the system. Teachers, parents and schools collude to cheat the league tables and Ofsted. John Taylor Gatto points out that all large institutions promote lying for personal gain. Schools are no different.1 All in school have a vested interest in lying to us all.
Schools and teachers
When schools are assessed on achieving targets and Sats results, they are encouraged to cheat in subtle and not so subtle ways; helping children to achieve for the sake of the school, excluding those likely to fail.
An article in The Guardian claims that widespread cheating devalues the school tests.2 This is not referring to pupils taking in a crib sheet or copying off a neighbour; this is the schools and teachers cheating to improve their results. Pupils are ‘helped’ to gain the required level even when they have no conception of the work. Or, like my neighbour, are not allowed to take the test at all. The article above points out the many methods that schools use to cheat: opening papers early and increasing revision on set topics; handing back exams to be corrected, checking exam scripts and rubbing out incorrect answers, adding decimal points and full-stops. In 2009 seventy schools had their Sats results annulled because of teachers cheating or mishandling the tests.3
It is symptomatic of a system open to corruption.4 Such corruption becomes inevitable the minute you have league tables. When performance related pay and achievement awards are often linked to year on year improvements in Sats and GCSEs, all in the system have a vested interest in being dishonest. When school funding relies on an amount paid perchild, schools lie and cheat to increase their popularity and hide problems.
Cheating to massage league table positions is only one of the ways that schools behave dishonestly. Ofsted reports do not give a true picture of what any school is like. They provide a great opportunity for all in a school to collude in a lie that everything is fine and dandy even if that is not what they truly believe. Masses of anecdotal evidence suggests that during inspections paperwork is pristine, no teachers are absent and difficult children are temporarily excluded or off-site. Specialist teachers can be flown in from other schools.
The language of school mission statements, policies and procedures, and the reality of what really happens is a morass of Newspeak, spin, lies and distortions. In Bullycide Neil Marr and Tim Field point out that schools are often in denial about bullying, as they believe admitting it exists would put parents off.5
Using words such as ‘reaching potential‘, ‘encouraging‘, ‘striving‘, ‘developing‘, ‘active participation‘, ‘school community‘, ‘caring and disciplined environment‘, indicate the spin and lies that exist in school. The gap between the rhetoric and the reality can be huge.6
Schools frequently lie to cover their backs. Many parents of disaffected or failing children have a story to tell. Parents are lied to about what has happened to their child, things said to children are denied, schools claim to have done things they have not, and not to have done things that they have. One case hit the news in 2009 when a school sacked a dinner lady for telling a seven-year-old’s parents that their daughter had been tied up and whipped by four boys in the playground. The school had not told the parents and the girl had been too traumatized to speak about it.7 The level of corruption has reached a new high with schools breaking rules on admissions by asking for cash donations from parents. The fact that these schools are breaking the law is not sufficient for parents to appeal.8
Many teachers lie to themselves and their pupils when they claim to respect the views of children while making them do what the institution requires anyway.
In this dishonest system, the teachers with the most integrity leave, are forced out, or are made sick. When survival in the system for teachers is about covering your back and upholding a corrupt system, it ensures that teaching is a very stressful thing to do. In order to survive, teachers have to lie to themselves that they are doing a worthwhile job in a system riddled with corruption and lacking any real integrity.
Against this backdrop, the position of the pupil is even more precarious. In a culture of dishonesty, children are misbelieved and mistrusted. In a culture of not telling, of being punished for owning up, of intrusions into privacy and prolonged supervision, children will become dishonest to protect themselves. Lying and cheating to avoid punishment, when these are unfairly meted out, becomes a necessary survival strategy, where the biggest crime is getting caught. This is the case with any punishment-based morality system.
With the stress on grades, standards, targets, etc., the incentives to cheat, download essays from the internet or copy, are increased. Parents collude by helping with coursework. This of course gives children of middle-class, university educated parents yet another unfair advantage over kids whose parents struggled in school. I have a friend who was really chuffed when she got an A on her son’s GCSE coursework. In 2006 The Guardian reported that GCSE coursework was to be curtailed to stop children copying directly from the internet.9
In 2010 Ofqual told us that 4,415 students had been penalised for cheating in GCSEs and A levels, most commonly for taking in banned items such as mobile phones.10
The unknown levels of cheating are, by definition, unknown, but when schools are judged on their pupils performances there is an incentive to collude, or turn a blind eye, to pupils’ attempt to maximise their results by creative means.
The lengths parents will go to to get their children into the school of their choice, often includes lies, dishonesty andcheating. From false addresses, to lies about religion, from those with no religious belief attending church to get a reference from a religious leader, to bribery, all manner of corruption exists. In 2007 The Manchester Evening News cited a Children’s Society poll that showed that 23% of parents in London were prepared to lie to get their child into the school of their choice. Elsewhere, it was one in seven.11 Remember, this is the percentage prepared to admit to being prepared to lie. It could be assumed that some of those who said they wouldn’t lie could be lying. Half said they would move house to get a place. This of course means those who can afford to move and buy a house in a catchment area have an advantage. A BBC news story in 2005, told the story of Margaret Gillespie, a deputy head teacher, who had lied on her daughter’s secondary school application.12
Dishonesty, embedded in all schools, carries on through to further and higher education and into the workplace, with spin and box-ticking valued more than integrity, honesty and genuine knowledge, skills, aptitude or ability. Dishonesty-training, however, is one of the things that does actually prepare children for life in corporate Britain, the modern workplace or parliament. In the Apprentice TV series in June 2008 on BBC TV the winning candidate had been caught lying on his CV. His creative dishonesty did not disqualify him.13
School enables us to lie to ourselves as adults about the effect of schooling on ourselves and our children. We convince ourselves that school is the best place for them, that they’re mostly happy there, that we have found the one good school in the area. We ignore the reluctance to go, the defeat seen as acceptance, the inability to say what happened at school today or the horror tales regaled. Because we make them go, they are unable to tell us all about it. Only when depression, self harm, truancy, and inability to cope are expressed as destructiveness, Special Educational Needs or frequent crying do we truly begin to question the harm we are doing to our children in the name of education. The denial we live in is the dishonesty school has fostered.
Dishonesty plays out in the many and untrue myths and assumptions that schools propagate. I will now expand on some of these myths.
1. Gatto John T (2005) Dumbing us down: The hidden curriculum of compulsory schooling (Canada: New Society) page 64
2. Chrysafis Angelique (28 Oct 2002) Widespread cheating devalues school tests The Guardian http:// www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2002/oct/28/ schools.primaryeducation1 accessed 28 Dec 2012 see also: ‘The many ways of cheating at SATs” From a primary teacher, London, name withheld (4 Jun 2002) http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2002/jun/04/publicvoices accessed 28 Dec 2012.
3. Jon Swaine (28 Jul 2009) Pupils disqualified from Sats after teachers cheated:
The Telegraph http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/ 5918401/Pupils-disqualified-from-Sats-after-teachers-cheated.html accessed 28 Dec 2012 4. Chrysafis op cit 5. Marr Neil and Field Tim (2001) Bullycide: Death at Playtime (Oxford: Success Unlimited). 6. OʼDonovan Barry (2006): A view from the other side Choice in Education 104
7.Russell Jenni (24 Sep 2009) School seeks dinner lady. Humans need not apply.
The Guardian http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/libertycentral/ 2009/sep/24/children-bullying-dinner-lady accessed 28 Dec 2012 8. BBC News (11 Mar 2008) How to appeal for a school place http:// news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/7275758.stm accessed 28 Dec 2012
9. Taylor Matthew(August 1 2006) GCSE coursework to be curtailed to stop internet cheats The Guardian http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2006/aug/01/ politics.schools accessed 28 Dec 2012 10.Paton Graeme (03 Feb 2010)More pupils cheating in exams, says Ofqual Telegraph http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/7139336/ More-pupils-cheating-in-exams-says-Ofqual.html accessed 28 Dec 2012 11.Ward Lucy (2007) Parents ready to move for good school The Guardian http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2007/oct/17/schools.schooladmissions accessed 28 Dec 2012
12.Harrison Angela (24 October 2005) The fight for good school places http:// news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/4364272.stm accessed 28 Dec 2012 13.Caroline Gammell and Nick Allen (11 jun 2008) The Apprentice: Lee McQueen winner of BBC show despite CV ‘liesʼ: Telegraph http:// www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/3554129/The-Apprentice-Lee- McQueen-winner-of-BBC-show-despite-CV-lies.html accessed 28 Dec 2012