The Guardian published an article titled I’m teaching – and I’m cheating. But why would any teacher cheat?.

I actually think that teachers, more or less, have to cheat to stay in the profession. This may be controversial, but in the profession there are perverse incentives that have unintended consequences for cooperation and professional standards:

  • Schools have league tables that result in a zero sum game; the success of one school naturally impacts on the relative placing of another. Schools are effectively disincentivised from helping each other. Teachers have pressure to help be part of the team and pull their weight making the school successful.
  • Results are an important part of OFSTED inspections. To deliver good results, senior management may put pressure on teachers even in some cases encouraging direct cheating.
  • Teachers are measured against colleagues, and often are compared irrespective of experience. A teacher with 15 years of experience should deliver better results than a new teacher, but there is no clear methodology for defining how much better the results should be.
  • Teachers are measured by results and are subject to performance related pay. If student results are better, teachers are more likely to progress up the pay scale.

Some might say that teachers are in the profession to help students, and should not be influenced by pay. This is a misunderstanding of how motivation works, but also ignores the fact that teaching performance is measured on student outcome rather than intangible factors.

If teachers are part of a caring profession, they care for others around them. They want successful students and to work for a successful school. They are encouraged to cheat. The fact that is surprising is perhaps the most surprising thing of all.