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 Monday, 13 May, 2002, 07:38 GMT 08:38 UK
'Pressure to cheat in exams'
As thousands of UK pupils prepare to sit exams BBC One's 4x4 Reports reveals how some teachers and pupils are under pressure to cheat to improve grades.

One secondary school teacher - who cannot be identified - told the programme her head teacher told her to write pupil's essays.

She says: "She [the head] told us to write essays for borderline students because she needs to improve the number of pupils who get five A to C grades to get extra funding."

Cheating is far more widespread than is recognised

Head teacher Joe Johnson
But it's not just in secondary schools, even in primary schools there are claims that tests and League tables are putting pressure on teachers to cheat. Sometimes in tests for children as young as seven.

Increase in cheating

Sandhills Community Primary School Head teacher Joe Johnson plays by the rules but says he understands why some teachers are tempted to cheat. He is worried about the effect on the profession.

He says: "Cheating is far more widespread than is recognised. I know of one school where the school achieved beacon status on the basis of the head teacher cheating and that bought a lot of extra money and prestige to that school."

Last year saw a dramatic increase in the number of schools caught cheating. Twenty four were found guilty of malpractice in the tests for seven to 11 year olds compared to 14 the previous year.

Elizabeth Hall - picture taken during secret filming
Elizabeth Hall: "No comment"
However, Qualifications and Curriculum Authority Chairman Sir William Stubbs denies cheating by teachers is a major problem.

He says: "Teachers themselves are thoroughly professional about this. The vast majority of teachers wish to see young people assessed under a system that's fair.

"And they do that and I commend them for their actions. So I don't think there is a major issue at all."

Essay writing 'to order'

But students are also using ever more sophisticated methods to cheat. With more marks now based on assessment and coursework, plagiarism and copying is becoming a major concern.

Posing as a desperate student, a 4x4 Reports researcher discovered just how easy it is to cheat.

He contacted an essay writing service run by former lecturer Elizabeth Hall, who advertises on the internet.

She agreed to complete a final year essay for him - at the cost of 60 an hour. All he had to do was drop off some coursework at her office.

I'm amazed nobody ever has twigged but they haven't

Elizabeth Hall
Ms Hall ensures students sign a disclaimer saying the essays are to be used as model answers only.

But she appears to know students often pass them off as their own. The researcher told Ms Hall he wanted to say it was his work and asked if she thought he would get caught.

She reassured him that was very unlikely saying: "You would be absolutely amazed because no one ever does. Nobody in four years has had any comeback and anybody said you didn't write it. So I shouldn't worry about that"

The researcher then showed Ms Hall an essay he had written previously, she said this would help her write in his style and so make it easier to pass off as his own work.

Ms Hall said: "Having got yours also helps me to know what sort of style to keep it. It'll be alright. I'm amazed nobody ever has twigged but they haven't."

But at a cost of nearly 500 for the essay, cheating doesn't come cheap. Ms Hall declined to comment.

As the UK exam season gets underway, tell us what you think about the examination system.Testing times
Are exams just a waste of time?
See also:

14 Jun 01 | Education
14 Jun 01 | Education
04 Jun 98 | Education
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