Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Banner Headline: ICAC exposes corruption risks in HCS take-home assessments

I am meant to be still on a no-post regime, but I could not resist this one.

For the benefit of my international readers ICAC stands for the independent Commission against Corruption, the NSW watchdog against official corruption. HSC is the Higher School Certificate, the final school exam in NSW.

Making coffee in the staff room, my eye was caught by the above headline from Corruption Matters, the May edition of the ICAC PR epistle. Because my youngest daughter is doing the HSC I grabbed it to see just what this high level official scandal was.

The story appears to be that a Sydney coaching college was alleged to be assisting students to cheat on their English HSC major projects by providing excessive support. ICAC was not able to substantiate the allegations, but still made some suggestions to the NSW Board of Secondary School Studies as to improved process to minimise risk of corruption.

All this may sound fair enough, but consider this.

Cheating has always been a problem in schools. Key variables include the education system and education management, the school, the teachers and the students.

Where a problem exists, it is the responsibility of the individual institution or, to the degree that the problem is a systemic one, the education system to fix. If the systemic problem comes from a system imposed by Government, then it is Government's responsibility to fix advised by the relevant experts.

Am I wrong in finding it strange that the State's peak anti-corruption body should carry as the lead story on its house paper a matter that involves no official corruption at all - there is no suggestion that there were bribes to officials - and is is any event a matter first for the education system to correct?

Am I wrong in thinking that that body is going outside its core mission?

And am I wrong in worrying about a response that instead of addressing the reasons why this matter might have occurred instead focuses on procedural steps to stop it happening again taking the existing system as a given?
As an aside, the eight page paper mentions the word "risk" in stories no less than 18 times.


Anonymous said...

I coach, as you know, and I always tell students I will do anything for them EXCEPT their homework and assessment tasks! I will explain what questions mean and suggest where they might find information, but that's it.

When the assessment is over, I will go through their answers help them work out where they may have gone wrong, of they did...

As for this story, coaching colleges may be prospering, but they've been around for years. Remember Power Coaching? Maybe they still exist. And there were cribs way back in the 1950s, and sometimes parents or others whose helping hand may have amounted to ghost writing.

In these internet days the question of plagiarism becomes even more urgent and hard to police. However, the disadvantages of having everything assessed in exam conditions under supervision are only too obvious. What about major works in Art, or compositions in Music? Does anyone know for sure who is actually doing them? Can they be done in an exam room? Of course not.

I agree: it isn't strictly ICAC territory, is it?

Jim Belshaw said...

Neil, any tutor who is a true professional as you are, sets limits.

Cribs existed way before 1950. They feature, for example, in David Blaize (1916).

How can it be ICAC territor?. This is a totally misapplied instrument.

Anonymous said...

I am with you, Jim. Actually, it is possibly an issue for the auditor-general, but I can't really see accountants as being the best people to address this issue either

Jim Belshaw said...

The auditor-general may well have a role in this area, MP, because of the way that office's role has evolved into a broader performance evaluation tool.

When I wrote the post my focus was on ICAC, but the case in question is actually an interesting case study because of the way it raises questions of accountability and responsibility.