Cheating prompts coursework probe

Nick Hilborne

Exam watchdog sets up reviews of GCSEs and A-levels. Nick Hilborne reports.

The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority has launched three separate reviews of GCSE and A-level coursework after a report revealed widespread cheating by students and parents.

The report also accused teachers of "coursework cloning" by using templates, writing frames and checklists in their lessons.

The value of coursework has been challenged by maths teachers. The QCA report showed that two-thirds of them do not believe it is a valid and reliable method of assessment.

Barbara Ball, professional officer for the Association of Teachers of Mathematics, said "data handling", one of the two components of maths GCSE coursework, was regarded by teachers as a "complete and utter waste of time".

Ms Ball described the other component, "using and applying" maths as "jumping through hoops rather than getting the children thinking about maths".

She said it was harder to deal with plagiarism in maths than other subjects, and that students posted solutions to coursework questions on websites.

"In the current climate it would be better not to have any maths coursework," she said.

Science teachers questioned in the QCA report were split down the middle on whether coursework was a valid form of assessment.

Derek Bell, chief executive of the Association for Science Education, said he believes most science teachers support coursework in principle. But he said the way GCSE coursework had been narrowed down to four or five similar experiments made many teachers question whether it had any use.

The QCA report said there were at least 10 websites offering coursework to students from GCSE to degree level. "With so much work being completed out of school, the use of such sites cannot be controlled," it concluded.

None of the 460 GCSE and A-level candidates interviewed for the report admitted to submitting downloaded material from the internet as coursework.

However, 5 per cent of the 400 parents questioned did admit drafting some of their offspring's coursework. Many of the 1,700 teachers who took part in the survey felt they did not have enough support from the awarding bodies where they suspected cheating.

In response, the QCA has launched three separate reviews.

A task force, chaired by Sue Kirkham, president of the Secondary Heads Association, is to report in February next year on how arrangements for authenticating coursework can be strengthened.

Professor Jean Underwood, from Nottingham Trent university is to advise on a detection strategy to combat internet plagiarism.

Ken Boston, chief executive of the QCA, will report to Ruth Kelly, the Education Secretary, by spring 2006 on the future of coursework in every subject.

In a letter to Dr Boston, Ms Kelly said: "It is fundamental to your role as regulator to sustain public confidence in our national qualifications, including those containing coursework."

Isabel Nisbet, director of regulation and standards at the QCA, said it would publish an extended leaflet advising parents who want to help their children with coursework, and has called on the three exam boards - AQA, OCR and Edexcel - to produce a special report on exam malpractice by the end of next summer.

The Joint Council for Qualifications will launch a pilot project next year to scan GCSE and A-level coursework for evidence of plagiarism. Northumbria Learning will scan work by students for the exam board Edexcel.


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Nick Hilborne

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