The cold, hard truth is that many of us cheat to meet targets, to achieve outcomes – teachers and youth workers alike?


In a revealing blog the Secret Teacher in the Guardian issues a deeply uncomfortable challenge to the teaching profession –

The cold, hard truth is that many of us cheat to meet targets

He or she begins:

There’s something rotten festering in our schools. It’s the elephant in the room, a skeleton in our closet and the clothes on the emperor. It has afflicted, tarnished and debased our once respected profession. Cheating. The cold, hard truth which we wilfully try to ignore is that, to some degree, almost all of us do it.

In our own critique of the Young Foundation’s Framework for Outcomes with Young People drafted over two years ago we ventured the following points and concerns in terms of youth work..

All of which [ the outcomes agenda]  places the present-day youth worker in an invidious position. Asked to deliver outcomes the inclination, indeed the pressure, is to overlook the potential for debate thrown up bythe possible differing meanings of a young person’s responses to an inventory. The priority is to translate the results into the easily absorbed data, favoured by managers, funders and politicians. The computer’s programme beckons. Its thirst for data is insatiable.

The world of of desired outcomes and desired data cannot bear failure. For a worker to admit that a residential went pear-shaped would be professional suicide. It would be defined as incompetence rather than a sober opportunity to explore with young people what went awry. This fear of getting things wrong reveals itself in an excess of self-congratulatory feedback about events and happenings. Everything seems to be so inspiring, to go so swimmingly well.

Increasingly it is clear that the collecting of the data is proving to be a means of monitoring a worker’s performance, seductive in its simplicity for the manager. As the worker feeds into the computer the score from an initial base-line assessment, the inevitable pressure is for later scores to illustrate improvement. If this is not the case the worker is seen as falling below standard.


In the interview, which carried our critique, the question was asked.

I’m sure some people will be deeply offended by the implication that results, the need to compete is undermining the integrity of practice.

My answer was,

Without doubt it is happening.  To put it bluntly the need to meet targets and outcomes leads managers and workers into manipulating and fabricating the data. This this is not about maverick individuals, bad apples. ‘Gaming’, falsifying the figures, is a systemic dilemma. It is the consequence of a flawed approach to evaluating the purpose and quality of practice. As things stand youth work has invested its very soul into the Outcomes project. Whilst workers will talk off the record about malpractice the cost of blowing the whistle would be enormous. It would be perceived as an act of treason.

As it was I hoped to write a fuller response, but I’m away this week. But what do you reckon?

Meanwhile without a backward glance of reflection the leaders of the youth sector press on in a state of determined arrogance and wilful ignorance.

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  1. There is no learning opportunity when success is so black and white, only those who got over the hump and those who apparently are doomed.

  2. An example.

    I was hired to teach a group of school-excluded students a course in IT at Level 2. The course was supposed to lead to a certificate from an examining body. The hiring body was the pupil-referral unit of a local authority. They had not (I think) run this kind of certificated course before.

    For one reason or another (the local authority manager said something about a fire in a cupboard) the right paperwork did not arrive. The students did not get their certificates.

    On the last day of the course the local authority manager turned up and asked me to sign a piece of paper which said that the course had been a roaring success. The manager made it quite clear that if I signed there would be further employment opportunities. While the words weren’t said it was clear that the future employment opportunities depended on my signing. Because this is not my main income I can afford to indulge my ethics and autonomy. I didn’t sign. If this was my main income I probably would have felt I had no choice but to sign.

    Instead of a frank investigation into what went wrong a desire to fabricate some results. As you say this is intrinsic to the outcomes agenda. Because in this system all that counts is the result and failure is not permitted. I wonder if this is how things were in the Soviet Union?

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