Rhiannon Harries: 'Our kids are cheating? Better now than later in life'

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The Independent Online

As the evenings become lighter and the days lovelier, it can mean only one thing for those still in education: long hours shut up indoors revising. Primary-school kids may be spared Sats this year, but from mock-GCSEs to ProPlus-fuelled university finals, exam season is here.

Parents desperately trying to drill the hard-work-equals-success message into book-shy kids might not have been especially heartened by the results of a survey published last week that revealed that more than half of all 16-year-olds witness cheating in every sporting match they play and the same number admit to breaking the rules themselves. But it's hard to believe that anyone could find this statistic genuinely shocking – in the newsflash stakes, "kids sometimes cheat" is up there with "sunbeds are bad for you" and "Ricky Martin is gay". A bad show indeed from the children of Britain – but at least they're honest.

Whether on the school playing field or in the classroom, I'm inclined to think cheating is an essential part of a child's education. And that's not to say that every child should give it a whirl, just that it's pretty good preparation for life to have to confront the temptation of flouting collective rules for personal gain.

In many ways, the earlier you do it the better, since school is the place that you are most likely to be caught – you might be able to pull off a convincing dive for the odd football penalty, or write a third of the periodic table on your leg come chemistry GCSE, but to routinely cheat your way to success would take more ingenuity and work than pulling it off fair and square. Moreover, when you are caught, you will at least be reprimanded in a way that is just serious enough to give you a decent fright without incurring a prison term or ruining your employment prospects for life.

What's reassuring about the finer detail of the survey, though, is the disconnect between the actions of the children involved and their perception of the same behaviour in others; a mere four per cent classed professional sportsmen who break the rules as "cool". Even if the other 96 per cent don't believe cheating is quite as uncool as they claim, they know very well that it's socially unacceptable to say otherwise. Their moral compasses are evidently pretty spot-on; it's the following of them that sometimes proves tricky – and quite why anyone might expect children to be above a problem as fundamentally human as that, I've no idea.