Confessions of an exam-cheat tutor: ‘For £3,000 I will write your child’s A-level paper’

“You may now open the exam paper.” Damien, 17, stares blankly at his choice of history A-level essay questions. He shrugs and smiles. “You choose,” he whispers, because it’s not him who is going to write his exam, but me.

As a tutor to the children of London’s super-rich, I have become known as the “Secret Scribe”. In short, I will write your child’s exam paper for them, totally legally. They will get full marks. This is a guarantee; my academic scrupulousness balances out my moral bankruptcy.

This morning I am sitting my A levels for the seventh time at one of the UK’s most sought-after private schools. The playground is littered with the sons and daughters of rock stars, footballers and Hollywood royalty.

I have been teaching Damien for eight weeks. I say “teaching”. I turn up to his house after school and we go through the syllabus while he throws his dirty socks at me. After all, the revision is for my benefit. We both know he doesn’t need to learn anything to get an A*. Today’s history exam will be our final session and I will earn £3,000 for this morning’s work. I do not advertise my services and you can only reach me via personal recommendation.

Damien has a letter from a private educational psychologist stating that he should dictate his exams due to learning difficulties. Crucially, the family are free to arrange their own scribe. Part of my job is to play along with the parents that no wrongdoing is taking place. I fell into scribing when another student was desperately unprepared and I was implored by the parents to assist in whatever way I could, rather than let the child face certain failure.

Of course, there are students who suffer from serious dyspraxia, dyslexia and other barriers to learning for whom a scribe is a fundamental necessity. I have tutored scores of students such as these. Damien is not one of them and his parents are open about this. Unless laziness can be medically diagnosed.

The reason I am paid so handsomely is that, of course, Damien is not dictating anything at all. He is reading aloud what I write and I have a master’s in history from the University of Cambridge.

An invigilator, who works at the school, reads a magazine at the front. They pay us little attention, as happens most of the time. They have no idea who I am. It does not seem to be in schools’ best interests to risk failing a student and thereby bringing down their grade average. In any case, everything Damien is saying is being recorded for the examiners and will be checked against my manuscript.

All he has to do now is come up with the first sentence. Damien spent last night at a friend’s 18th birthday party in a Mayfair nightclub. I can smell cigarettes and vodka on his breath.

“Elizabeth I was a queen in England who lived in the past.” Sigh. The thing is, Damien

is not actually that stupid. He’s actually very clever. He could probably get an A* on his own. But he knows it doesn’t matter because I can now take over and Damien reads aloud what I type. The audio recording of the exam and what is in his paper correspond exactly. I even learn to mimic each student’s manner of expression for perfect credibility.

The one discipline we practise before the exam is the performance of reading out what I write in a way that sounds as though the student is thinking spontaneously. There is a technique. I will finish a sentence before starting half of the next one and we wait for a beat, before the student starts to read and I start to type again. This way it sounds as if I am slightly behind the speaker, when in fact I am always five words ahead.

There are pitfalls, of course. Jasmine, a student I scribed for at a London cra

mmer, was terrible at “acting” her essays. She would read out what I wrote like a bad television presenter squinting at an Autocue. To combat this I would write instructions like “take a breath”. If anyone were to listen to the tape of her art history paper, they could hear her describe the use of colour in a Madonna and Child as “slow down”.

Only once has an invigilator come to look over my shoulder, surprised by the sudden eloquence of a student. The student kept up the performance until the invigilator was satisfied and I went back and corrected the mistakes in what they had said. At the end of the exam, the invigilator congratulated the student on what sounded like an excellent paper and my heart swelled with pride. I was a swot at school, and the gratification of doing well in exams never leaves me. Tragic, I know.

Exam success was a way for me to prove my worth to my parents, who came from humble backgrounds and had made big sacrifices to give me the best chances in my education when I was at school in the late 1990s. They did everything they could to help me, and although we might not have had lots of money, I could lavish them with A*s instead.

The children I scribe for have parents who hope that throwing money at a problem will make it disappear. I do not resent them achieving these high marks because I know they are merely bits of paper and they cannot buy the glow of satisfaction that comes with well-earned success. I am also well aware that exam success does not equal happiness for anyone. Maybe a part of me hopes that in getting top grades, these children can bask in their often distant parents’ pride at least for a short while, however ill-gotten and ersatz it may be.

The immoral and ingenious trick of scribing is symptomatic of the Wild West-style British exam system, where money and influence can get a child whatever grades their parents want.

I have worked as a private tutor in London for the super-rich for five years and experiences like this are not unusual. I sell my mind to the highest bidder. There are those who can charge up to £1,500 an hour. My usual rate is £100 an hour, but scribing of this kind comes at a higher price. Like any black market, there isn’t a recommended retail price. I know tutors who have written master’s papers for £1,000. Others for £10,000.

When you take on a new job you never know what you are letting yourself in for. The family’s dynamic is as much a game of roulette as getting your child into your first choice of school. I have been flown all over the world in private jets to teach long division on superyachts. I have nurtured students crippled by depression and eating disorders back into society. I have been asked by the parents of a six-year-old I was teaching conversational French to supply them with Class A drugs. I have been propositioned by minor European royals for a ménage à trois on a Caribbean island while the children were away at a beach club.

Yet the vast majority of parents hiring tutors are not members of Britain’s superstrata. They are instead part of the squeezed middle class who are more and more willing to pay £40 to £150 an hour to give their children the edge as competition for school and university places becomes ever more fierce and the world grows ever smaller.

According to a survey carried out by EdPlace, an educational resources provider, the UK private tuition industry is worth £6 billion, with one in four households admitting to hiring a tutor. In London this figure reaches close to 50 per cent. It is an industry that will continue to grow as long as entrance to some of our top schools remains as competitive as Oxbridge. Four children fight for a single place at Eton; 6,000 sit the entrance exams for the UK’s best free grammars, the Schools of King Edward VI in Birmingham; and 90,000 children do not receive their first choice of secondary school. Is it any wonder that parents are willing to shell out a small fortune (on top of already sky-high school fees for many) to give their child the best chance they can get in life?

Tutoring agencies know how to beguile parents and keep them putting cash on the table. They tell them they have personal relationships with registrars at schools who will favour their children. They ask tutors to find previously non-existent issues in the tutee and then pressure the parents into enlisting yet more help, which means more money in their pockets. I know this first-hand from working in the office of one of London’s most respected agencies. Many parents don’t know just how much commission the agencies take. Of £60, most tutors will only see £35.

Perhaps more worrying is the faith, or at least apparent faith, the agencies place in the tutors on their books. Any tutor knows how easy it is to get work with a CV that brags of a master’s from Harvard when sometimes they have no such thing.

Many agencies claim that their tutors all undergo DBS checks for any criminal history. I have never been asked for mine. The industry is wide-open to charlatans and worse, and no child deserves that.

My services are shamelessly corrupt, but the morality of the private tutor is always murky. You very quickly find yourself sliding down a slippery slope, from aiding and abetting, to downright cheating. No tutor will have any qualms completing a pupil’s homework. It’s easy work and requires no preparation. They will write a student’s personal statement for university applications and do their exam coursework. It is unfair on their teachers and classmates, as well as ultimately letting down the pupil. I have taught students who have been so “overtutored” that by the time they are 16 and taking GCSEs, they can barely read.

Yet even if a tutor dutifully provides genuine support and nurture to a student, is it not a travesty that this is only available for large sums of money? Affluence, and its access to degrees of injustice, gets children top grades.

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