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Coursework is a 'charter to cheat'

Internet and parents ruin assessment, say teachers. Nick Hilborne reports

The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) 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 also been challenged by maths teachers. The QCA report showed two-thirds of them do not believe it is a reliable method of assessment.

The QCA oversees the work of England's three exam boards, whose exams are taken by many pupils in Wales.

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

"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 on whether coursework was a valid form of assessment.

Derek Bell, chief executive of the Association for Science Education, said he believed most science teachers supported it in principle. But he said the way GCSE coursework had been narrowed down to four or five similar experiments made many question its 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 confessed 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 work.

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 better arrangements for authenticating coursework.

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

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

Isabel Nisbet, director of regulation and standards at the QCA, said the body would publish a leaflet for parents on how to help pupils, and has called on the three English exam boards - AQA, OCR and Edexcel - to produce a report on exam malpractice by the end of next summer.

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