In 2013, 37 primary schools had their national test results for individual year groups completely scrapped by exam administrators due to ‘maladministration’. A lovely, euphemistic word. According to the Civil Service’s Standards and Testing Agency (STA), it means in fact that 37 primary schools carried out acts ‘that could jeopardise the integrity, security or confidentiality of the national curriculum tests.’ So, ‘cheating’, then.
In practice, ’maladministration’ means things such as teachers coaching pupils through exams, opening exam papers in advance, pupils themselves cheating or – what seems the worst sin – test papers being manipulated by schools after they have been handed in.
We’ve commented before on the number of school and university students who take advantage of the opportunities to cheat which the online world of ghost-written essays offers them, and there will always be a few children who try and take an easy way out. But we’re talking here about the teachers and heads of schools either not uncovering cheating or actually undertaking it themselves.
The number of primary schools across the UK which had results scrapped rose from only six in 2012 to the more recent 37. There was a rise across all schools, not only primaries, with 511 cases of maladministration overall in 2013, compared with 370 in 2012.
This rise is not attributed to a sudden outburst of bad behaviour by schools, but to the fact that guidelines on administering exams now make it easier for whistleblowers to report cheating from within schools. There has also been a tightening of the rules by the reporting body, the STA. So the bad behaviour is being exposed more effectively – how long it’s been going on is anyone’s guess. But good for the whistleblowers for bravely raising the issues.
When the results were published, the Department for Education said the report showed that ‘allegations of cheating are dealt with seriously and strong action is taken where there is doubt over the validity of the tests.’ All well and good. It also says that the vast majority of complaints about maladministration are unfounded.
However, the Department then added: ‘This year’s results  were changed at only 85 schools, representing less than 1% of the primary schools where pupils took tests.’ EIGHTY-FIVE primary schools were found to be guilty of maladministration. We all want our children to succeed, but few of us want their results to be fraudulently changed by the institutions we want to love and respect. And I don’t care if it’s only happening at one per cent of primaries – it should not be happening at any per cent of them.
Why is this cheating occurring? To boost results. In our target-driven educational culture, schools are desperate to be seen to succeed. If a poor year-group – and all teachers say they encounter these from time to time – comes along with bad results, changing those marks is clearly just too tempting for some schools when faced with a slide in the league tables.
The deputy general secretary of the National Union of Teachers says, ‘We believe these problems arise from an accountability system that is more about punishment and pressure than progress.’ He continues, ‘Of course, schools and teachers must be accountable, but the current system is badly broken. We need accountability based on professional discourse, trust and proportionality, not top-down targets and league tables.’
The word I’m looking for here is integrity. Whatever improvements should be made to the system of accountability, no amount of results-driven pressure should be an excuse for cheating by schools. Whistleblowers, keep up the good work.