Thursday, December 07, 2006

Cheating in British schools

Schools should consider using signal blocking devices to prevent pupils using mobile phone text messaging and two-way pagers to cheat in examinations, a leading expert on exam fraud said yesterday. Jean Underwood, a Professor of Psychology at Nottingham Trent University, also called for the introduction of photoidentity checks to prevent pupils getting someone else to sit their exams for them.

In a report published yesterday by the exams watchdog, the Qualification and Curriculum Authority (QCA), Professor Underwood said that although most of the debate on the use of new technology and cheating had focused on universities, the problem was likely to be more widespread in schools. "The problems of academic dishonesty may be less well researched in the school system than in the tertiary education sector, but all the evidence points to the problem being both real and on a significant and growing scale," she said.

The report by Professor Underwood, Digital Technologies and Dishonesty in Examinations and Tests, lists a range of digital techniques that students routinely use to cheat. Some have been caught getting friends outside the examinations hall to text or page answers cribbed from the internet; others have used hand-held electronic personal organisers to store notes and to exchange answers with other exam takers in the same hall.

During coursework, students routinely cut and paste essays bought over the internet and present them as their own work. In one survey, three quarters admitted to cheating: 15 per cent had obtained a paper from the internet, while 52 per cent had copied a few sentences from a website without revealing the source.

Professor Underwood noted that while digital technology may have made cheating easier, it does not seem to be the sole cause. About 90 per cent of students who use the internet to plagiarise have also plagiarised from books. Younger students are more likely to use digital devices to cheat, possibly because their understanding of the technology is more sophisticated.

While the introduction of "honour codes" for students can reduce cheating, Professor Underwood also calls for a more practical approach. Most mobile phone jamming devices are illegal, because they may interfere with other equipment, but devices that detect signals are available and schools should investigate their use, she said. The banning of mobile phones in exam halls tends not to be effective. "There are now very inexpensive devices (about 100 pounds) which can silently detect mobile technology devices as they are switched on or off and when in use. These devices have a limited range so would need to be walked around an examination hall."

Her report also highlights more low-tech, traditional forms of cheating. Because teachers no longer routinely invigilate in examinations and the job is often carried out by external examiners who do not know pupils personally, the scope for impersonation was greater than before. Photo-identity checks and biometric identification methods could be used to combat this, she suggested.

Isabel Nisbet, director of regulation and standards at the QCA, said that last year 1,900 pupils were caught taking a mobile phone into an exam hall. "This is only a minute proportion of the numbers taking exams and these are just the cases we know about - we don't know what the actual position is, but we do need to be aware of it," she said. She said that the QCA would look into the recommendations. "We can use technology to foil technology, but that is not the whole answer. The real answer is to create an attitude and culture among young people that they should not cheat," she said.

More here

Australia: The disgrace of bad teachers

Failure to sack bad teachers is a scandal that has festered in our schools for decades, writes Judith Wheeldon

A shock headline in last Monday's The Daily Telegraph in NSW is good news: "104 teachers sacked, staff criminal and inept". Those who value good teaching for their children will be encouraged. The efforts and reputation of good teachers, the overwhelming majority, are undermined by the negative attributes of a small number of their colleagues. Given that there are almost 50,000 government teachers in NSW alone and there have been few successful sackings in the past, clearing a backlog of 104 government teachers is not a big achievement and more might be welcome. But it is a good start.

The need to remove non-performing or dangerous teachers is not exclusively a NSW issue. Other states have suffered the same difficulties in maintaining standards by terminating the employment of those who cannot or will not mend their ways. Nor is this a government school issue. It applies to faith-based, independent and government schools equally. There are about 60,000 teachers in non-government schools and about 144,000 in government schools nationally.

Removing bad teachers from our schools is a national issue of great importance. It is obvious that we fail our children if we make them spend a precious year trying to learn under the influence of a bad teacher or one who may damage them for life, but there are other reasons as well. English-speaking countries are facing a shortage of teachers and especially of school leaders. The threat to education systems is so significant that teacher poaching has become common, but stealing good teachers from each other is no solution to shortages.

Anecdote and research repeatedly demonstrate that good teachers suffer from the bad reputation easily given to their schools and their profession by a few poor performers. Many school leavers who would make splendid teachers are discouraged from taking up the challenge by their own justified lack of respect for the teachers who inflicted unprofitable lessons on them and by the low social status accorded a profession that is not allowed to assert standards and weed itself out.

When teachers fail, their students carry tales of their malfeasance home. Parents complain but school authorities, knowing it is extremely difficult to terminate a bad teacher, must find a modus vivendi. Parents then form an impression that the principal lacks resolve or judgment. The principal cannot commiserate with parents or student because of defamation dangers. The school loses credibility.

Loss of trust in a handful of teachers leads to undervaluation of them all. This undervaluation becomes a short-sighted excuse for a depression of salaries, which of course lowers the quality of intake of new teachers, and so the spiral goes on. Now we do not have enough teachers to teach our children, largely because of our inability to terminate those who have lost our confidence. Sack the bad ones, pay the good ones professional salaries. Give teachers respect. Then stand back and watch intelligent people, including men, line up for a very rewarding career.

Why have schools been powerless to sack bad teachers, child abusers and thieves? In government schools, where principals have few powers to hire and fire, teachers may eventually be transferred to another school. In non-government schools, heads can try to terminate persistently poor teachers. A principal concerned about a teacher's performance or behaviour may in a very circumspect and careful way begin a process of discussion and counselling, aiming first to improve the teacher's performance. Many careers have been rescued by a well-focused program of counselling and professional development. Termination of employment becomes the logical goal if rescue doesn't work.

Inevitably, the union steps in with vigorous defence. It is certainly valid for the union to ensure that any process that may threaten employment is fair. Too often, however, unions defend the indefensible. They claim to have rescued a poor, victimised teacher from the jaws of a marauding school principal. But the damage done by over-exuberant defence of incompetent or even pedophile teachers has already done great harm to individual children and to our school system.

Threats of legal challenge, publicity for the child as well as the school, and great expense mean schools have learned not to try. Courts seem to believe that teachers have a right to keep their jobs in spite of refusal to update skills, for example by learning to use a computer, or threatening children through abuse, physical, psychological or sexual.

Whether the grounds for termination are based on incompetence or child abuse, in the few arguments non-government schools win against unions, the mechanism for terminating a teacher requires a kind of no-fault agreement, a favourable reference for the should-have-been-disgraced teacher and a significant payout that could amount to a year's salary. A confidentiality agreement signed by both parties is somehow binding on the school but often ignored by the teacher, who with impunity talks about the dismissal and how unfair it is. The school, upholding the agreement, has no right of reply.

Schools do not have to agree to the above conditions and could proceed in an industrial court to press the case for outright dismissal, but legal advice too often takes the coward's way, pointing out that the chance of success is slight and publicity will be damaging to the school and in some cases to children who could be locally identified through the reported circumstances. With a school to run and lacking support from the school's legal advisers, the principal reluctantly joins the game of pass the parcel, sending an incompetent teacher out to a job at another school. It seems more certain, quicker and better for the school in the short run for the teacher to leave gracefully. The price seems cheap: a payout and a good reference. The real price is in the lower quality of our schools.

When the prospective new employer phones, the principal is constrained to support the faulty reference. Sometimes a long silence on the phone or a cryptic comment suggests a problem that cannot be uttered, but too often the penny does not drop. Another parcel has been passed.

The NSW Coalition education spokesman Brad Hazzard has suggested classroom inspections as a means of weeding out teachers and of quality assurance. However, inspection proved to be a false comfort during the 20th century. Many poor teachers can give one good lesson, or even many, when there is an audience. The worst teachers, the pedophiles, are likely to shine during inspection, as pleasing youthful audiences is their stock in trade. It is the long haul we need to judge. We need real thinking about how to rid our schools of poor teachers, not facile headline grabbers.

Now the NSW Department of Education has found ways as well as the courage to take on the unions and terminate teachers who do not deserve to teach our children. I say congratulations to them. Our children deserve a united effort from governments, schools, unions and the media in developing a nationwide strategy to ensure that only the best are given the honour of teaching your child and mine.

Federal Education Minister Julie Bishop has alluded to the need to remove those teachers who drag down the quality of our schools. She is absolutely right. Bishop is the only person who is in a position to bring all parties together to outline a strategy to ensure justice for all: a fair hearing and result for challenged teachers, and termination of those who have failed to be good enough to teach the next generation of Australians. Minister, you will be supported when you take up this challenge.



For greatest efficiency, lowest cost and maximum choice, ALL schools should be privately owned and run -- with government-paid vouchers for the poor and minimal regulation.

The NEA and similar unions worldwide believe that children should be thoroughly indoctrinated with Green/Left, feminist/homosexual ideology but the "3 R's" are something that kids should just be allowed to "discover"

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