At the chalkface: Cheating

Written by: Ian Whitwham | Published:

This happened nigh on 30 ages ago, but I’ve sometimes worried that it might have constituted cheating. Did it make a difference to Plum’s final grade?

I’m pacing hatchet-faced between desks. Pupils are sitting hatchet-faced at them. They drudge away, tense, sullen, anxious.

We are in an exam hall. We are in an exam hell. I am The Invigilator.

I do gravitas and gaze frostily at their faces, many replete with struggle, resentment and defeat. I spot a hand raised. It belongs to Dennis Plum. His face is blank and quizzical. He seems to be summoning me.

I give him nil eye contact and pass him by like a hanging judge. I hear the sound of my footsteps. I turn round. His arm is still raised. I pass pitilessly by. I turn a third time. Still his arm is raised. I stop. He whispers in my ear.

“Sir, who’s the thick geezer in Mice and Men?”

I am shtum.

“What’s the name of the big, fat one? I forgot.”

I am still shtum. This is an exam for goodness sake.

His hand still hasn’t gone down by the time I pass again.

“Please!” he mimes.

“Lennie,” I mime back.

This happened nigh on 30 ages ago, but I’ve sometimes worried that it might have constituted cheating. Did it make a difference to Plum’s final grade? A life-changing difference? Should I have just passed on by? Should I have been reported to the exam board? Surely not. It wouldn’t have mattered. What’s in a name? And we weren’t looking for closed, strict answers.

You couldn’t really cheat in an English exam then.

Not like today. The testing culture has become so murderously factual, it’s given rise to hard-core cheating. It seems to pay off. It’s quite the fashion, often in schools with the most status anxiety.

Teachers have had to walk the plank. Many thousands of others have been caught providing “improper assistance” to their pupils, exam boards have shown recently.

Nearly 2,300 cases of malpractice were committed by staff in OCR exams between 2012 and 2016 – 3,603 candidates were caught, 1,000 subsequently disqualified, 581 teachers were warned and 113 sent to the Gulag for “training”. Only 83 were suspended from exam roles.

I don’t know what’s more dispiriting about this. The actual cheating or the desperate need to keep your job by cheating.
It just reveals the terrors of teachers and pupils, the wretched imperatives of our testing culture and the negation of any real education. Parrot essays, rehearsed tick box answers, perpetual mock exams seem close to cheating anyway. It’s no wonder modern pupils are so successful – and so incurious. And Dennis Plum? He failed spectacularly, all guns blazing. The poor boy couldn’t cheat if he tried. He was beyond help, inappropriate or otherwise.

  • Ian Whitwham is a former inner city London teacher.


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