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Coursework fears mount

Flexible deadlines, spoonfed pupils, stressed-out teachers ... is it time to rethink GCSEs? Warwick Mansell reports

Teachers are doing their pupils' GCSE coursework for them because of the pressure they are under to improve results, a head of department claimed today.

League table pressures mean teachers are finishing off assignments, allowing teenagers to break coursework deadlines and offering advice in language oral exams, said Derek Fisher (not his real name).

Writing in today's TES, the head of sociology at a large comprehensive in southern England, said many teachers allowed pupils to redraft their work many times, eliminating errors.

Pupils were being "spoonfed" through revision, with the result that they had few opportunities to think for themselves. Mr Fisher said he had originally welcomed coursework, but that it had now "outlived its usefulness".

He writes: "We all know that some teachers set deadlines and then allow defaulters to extend them. I've seen desperate teachers spending hours after school with their classes in an effort to get the grades up. I've heard of a teacher who had to be told several times to stop finishing someone's coursework for him on the computer.

"There's nothing new about it, but perhaps it's becoming more widespread as we move inexorably into a 'results are everything' culture."

His comments come amid widespread concern about coursework help available to pupils via the internet, parents and teachers.

The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority will publish advice next month on the limits of guidance permitted by teachers.

Sue Kirkham, president of the Association of School and College Leaders, who has been leading a QCA coursework review, has told the regulator that most staff are in the dark about the rules.

"Most teachers (are) unaware of the guidance available to them or were unable to understand the multitude of rules and regulations which...vary with different specifications", she told a QCA board meeting two months ago.

Last year, teachers told The TES that coursework cheating had become institutionalised, with staff bending the rules in their desperation to improve results.

The TES was passed copies of a teacher's guidance for a GCSE English literature assignment and the essay a pupil produced using it - they were virtually identical.

Some subject associations have consistently defended the place of coursework. They say that it allows pupils to demonstrate project work and research skills of the sort they will need in the workplace and at university.

QCA figures reveal there were 3,573 documented cases of coursework malpractice last year.

A QCA spokesman said: "The majority of teachers want to stick within the rules on coursework, but quite a lot have told us that they are not absolutely clear what they can, and cannot do."

What do you think about coursework? Email with your views Opinion 23

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