The experts have finally rumbled us - and not before time

Polly Hepburn

So Ruth Kelly, the Secretary of State for Education, and the examinations watchdog have finally woken up to what the rest of us have known for years: that GCSE and A-level coursework is open to cheating by pupils, parents and teachers.

Now, we are to have a subject-by-subject review by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority. It took the watchdog two years to reach its first conclusion - to tell us what we already know.

The facts are simple. There is barely a mother in the land who would not, in some way, help their child to get a higher grade in these vital exams. I am not suggesting for one minute that we are all devoting our lives to completing coursework for our children, but I am saying that all of us are guilty to some degree.

I am the mother of three children and it starts from the moment your first child enters the school gates. And you soon learn that being a mother is like being in the Mafia: join or you're dead.

When my eldest child was about six, his weekend homework was to make a house. I found a shoebox, cut out windows and a door. Then I got ambitious and made windows out of matches and curtains out of scraps of material glued on the inside.

We proudly carried our joint creation into the classroom, only to watch the teacher placing it on a table next to a mock Tudor, four-bedroom, two-bathroom pile, complete with fitted carpets and fully furnished in doll's house style. Yes, that was my Damascene moment. It is impossible to police coursework. Sure, there is software to pick off wholesale plagiarism from the internet, but there is no such tool to pick up whether Mum trawled the library or corrected grammar and spelling. And what are teachers doing when they return coursework with corrections and suggestions for improvement?

I know of younger siblings who have copied entire pieces of work from their older siblings without even changing a word.

The only surprising thing about this latest shock-horror is the fact that it has taken the experts so long to cotton on.

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Polly Hepburn

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