‘Not in our name.’ Tutors, not cheats. - May '18

By Richard Evans, MTA and Board Director

I should have seen it earlier. There were recurrent signs that one of my tutees was trying to take ‘shortcuts’ with their foundation degree; asking me if I would 'review' a summative essay; asking if I would mind correcting their 'academic' English; asking if I would help them edit a weak opening paragraph. It was even more shocking when my tutee asked me - point blank - to write a coursework assignment for them. I refused all these requests - and told the tutee why.

I am categorically against cheating in all forms – be it educational, sporting, financial or political. I became a private tutor because I enjoy educating students. I enjoy helping them to grow academically; broadening their horizons; challenging their assumptions, and boosting their general confidence. I have no problem being paid to give my students an edge – to help them be the very best that they can be – but I know where the ethical boundaries lie and that writing a student’s essay is very clearly unacceptable. Cheating undermines education. Worse still, it does a great disservice to the cheat themselves because it stops them from knowing what they are really capable of and entrenches a habit of laziness that will, almost certainly, catch up with them later in life.

I don’t blame students for considering cheating in a moment of despair – it’s human nature to try and take shortcuts in times of stress - but I do take major exception to anyone assisting with plagiarism, especially if paid to do so. Indeed, possibly the most valuable help I can give to my students is when they face the most daunting of hurdles – when they’ve left it far too late to prepare for an exam, but through pure grit and grind, and with my encouragement and support, manage to pull out a great result nevertheless. These moments show them just how impressive they can be when they set their minds to it. It instils a lasting confidence, and this is an important part of the learning process.

Of course, cheat services don’t care about this. They just want to get paid.

A quick Google search whilst researching this post shows the scale of the problem. Google has a limit on the number of search results it returns (150 entries if you’re interested). From the first to the fifteenth page, it was peppered with services openly offering to write essays for students. The brazenness of these services disturbs me; given the sheer number of offerings, I worry that students will start to think it’s acceptable to cheat. If it is so wrong, why are there so many options to help me do so? I sincerely hope that the government will take aggressive steps -and sooner rather than later - to ban these 'cheat' services.

However, my real concern for our industry does not come from these 'open' cheats, but from the covert ones. It was the more furtive returns amongst my Google search that concerned me the most: cheat services masquerading as ‘private tutors’. This is harming the reputation of all of us who are providing legitimate training to students. It is not enough to just disassociate with cheats. We must now take active steps to remove both the open and the covert cheats - including the 'essay mills' - from our networks.

So, what can we do?
• Tutoring companies and platforms must actively seek out tutors offering to write essays and remove their profiles.
• Online platforms should provide a ‘flag as unethical’ link so that tutors can help to report those openly claiming to cheat.
• Help TTA to lobby to make such services illegal.

...and, of course, check TTA’s Code of Conduct which clearly sets out the ethical boundaries and refuse service to all students looking to cheat.

I will be writing, on behalf of TTA (and my own tutoring organisation), to the newly appointed Universities Minister and Secretary of State for Education to reinforce our firm stance against essay mills. Further, a corporate petition will be sent to individual and corporate members over summer, asking them to sign up to a commitment to combat cheating within our profession. If you would like to get behind this initiative, please contact TTA on info@thetutorsassociation.org.uk.

Richard Evans is a Director of The Tutors’ Association, Founder of The Profs Tuition and private tutor.


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