AN INVESTIGATION is underway into a Sheffield youth project where staff are claimed to have routinely helped pupils to cheat in their exams and coursework.
Workers at the Pitstop Youth Project, run by St John’s Church in Chapeltown, are said to have completed students’ work to help them gain valuable qualifications designed to get them a college place.
When one woman said she felt ‘extremely uncomfortable’ about the practices, she was told if the teenagers didn’t pass schools would not send pupils there and everyone would be out of a job.
Pitstop works with 11 to 16-year-olds at risk of dropping out of mainstream education and leaving school with no qualifications at all.
Pupils needing extra help are sent from Ecclesfield, Yewlands and other secondaries from across the north of the city, with around 100 a week attending.
Evidence about cheating emerged during an employment tribunal for youth worker Debbie Varcoe, who worked there for two years.
Mrs Varcoe, aged 50, won her claim of constructive dismissal after it was found she left her job following repeated bullying by her manager.
A further hearing to decide on compensation will be held in June.
Mrs Varcoe has been told by ASDAN Education, the body which awards Pitstop’s qualifications, it is taking her revelations very seriously and a full investigation has been launched.
Pitstop itself says its own inquiries found the tribunal evidence ‘contradictory and inconclusive’.
Mrs Varcoe told the hearing she and a colleague, Jennie Martindale - who also gave evidence - had been threatened with dismissal after they said they didn’t want to be involved in completing students’ coursework and inflating their marks.
“If the pupils were poor attenders, we were expected to finish their work for them,” she told The Star. “In some cases we had to write all their projects for them.
“The courses are supposed to build the pupils’ confidence and the qualifications are the equivalent of a B or D at GCSE. But it’s hardly in the child’s interests if they get them unfairly.
“I felt pressured into going along with the cheating, which caused me anxiety and laid heavily on my conscience. But my manager told me: ‘If you want a job this is what you have to do’.
“I know I’ve now opened a huge can of worms. Ecclesfield School knew nothing about all this and I don’t think the Pitstop board did either.
“I did what I thought was right but I’m the one who’s now without a job.”
Rev Rick Stordy, a member of the Pitstop board, said the allegations had been carefully examined, and some ‘helpful recommendations for future practice’ had been made by the investigation.
“Our overriding goal is to carry on with the excellent work the project does to transform the lives of local young people,” he said.
Sheffield Council’s acting executive director of children’s services, Jayne Ludlam, said Pitstop was an independent provider which schools used for re-engagement programmes.
“The students remain under the responsibility of the school who monitor and evaluate the provision,” she said.