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Incentivised to Cheat?

4th September 2017 by Jodi Rilot

When teachers cheat, there is poison in the well. Eton’s Mo Tanweer paid with his job for leaking exam questions. A catastrophic error of judgement, but context is all. I am curious about the organisational culture that would lead to such a decision. Cheating and plagiarism are the high-treason of academia and the price of discovery is banishment. What then caused the Eton Deputy Head, and no doubt countless others, to take such a risk?

From Enron, to the global financial crisis, it is always the prevailing organisation culture that enables people to cheat; perhaps even incentivises cheating through narrowly defined performance metrics. We know what happens in the world of business when there is no purpose beyond profit and it is not good. 

When the purpose of education is lost, when it ceases to be about developing a thirst for learning and setting moral standards – whatever then is the point of it? It seems that the relentless pursuit of higher league-table rankings, via the perfect set of A*s, is a millstone around the neck of students and teachers alike. And it is dragging us into morally murky water.

We are all complicit in creating this culture: head teachers, parents, a press that relishes headlines about our “failing education system” and how “UK schools lag behind in global rankings”. It is not surprising then, nor even shocking, that teachers feel tempted to give their students an extra “edge”. 

I wonder what it would be like if head teachers, school governors and parent bodies were to redefine what we mean by “a good education”. What if we reset this culture that defines success in such narrow terms, a culture that can be gamed and rigged, leaving hard-working students robbed of a fair outcome? Imagine if school league tables ranked according to a school’s ethical standards i.e. the beliefs, values and decision-making preferences of their leadership teams? There is even a personality profile tool that is designed to measure exactly this (MoralDNA*).

What if the school league tables gave a % score for values such as courage, trust, self-control, creativity, hope and crucially, honesty? Wouldn’t this be a better guide to what we mean when we say “I went to a good school?”.

* http://moraldna.org/ A personality profile designed to help you to understand your moral values, how you prefer to make good decisions and ‘do the right thing’