GCSE coursework axed

Fear of cheating brings end of unsupervised assignments

Out-of-class coursework is to be scrapped for most GCSEs within three years, even though two-thirds of teachers want it to stay.

Twenty years after it was introduced for all pupils, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority is proposing removing cousework from subjects including English literature, history and geography.

It was brought in to give pupils a chance to prove their skills beyond a one-off timed exam. But concerns about internet cheating, parents doing the work and a perception that it favours girls have helped bring about its demise. Ministers launched the review because of worries of plagiarism. But 82 per cent of teachers surveyed said they did not think their pupils used the internet to cheat.

Today, the QCA also acknowledged that the pressures of league tables and performance pay were also a factor, implying that teachers could not be trusted with coursework because of what rode on the results. The authority is advising that it should be replaced in nine subjects from 2009, either with more exams, or with set assignments, marked by the boards, which pupils would complete in class under supervision.

In maths change will come more quickly with GCSEs being exam-only from next September.

Art and design, design and technology, home economics, music and physical education will retain conventional coursework, but exam boards will be told to tighten it up to stop pupils cheating.

Keith Davidson, a former English teacher who led the introduction of 100 per cent English coursework in 1986, said exams had been rejected as a valid way of assessing the subjects in the 1960s.

He added: "The more we turn GCSEs into exams, the more we turn the clock back to the 1950s."

Terry Lamb, past president of the Association for Language Learning, said:

"This is a great loss. It's a shame there is such a suspicious attitude to education in this country."

Before making its recommendations, QCA sought the views of 700 heads of subject or department in seven subject areas. Sixty-six per cent disagreed with the statement "I would prefer there to be no coursework element", with 51 per cent strongly disagreeing. Thesurvey also found half of teachers admitted they provided detailed essay outlines for pupils.

The regulator believes that English literature, business studies, classics, economics, geography, history, languages, religious studies and social sciences should not be assessed through coursework. But it is worried that exam-only GCSEs could worsen examiner shortages and raise exam bills, so it is to investigate set tasks supervised by teachers. Any changes will be included in draft GCSE criteria, which go out for consultation in 2007, and taught from 2009.

As The TES revealed last month, most A-level subjects have escaped the coursework axe.

full reports,10

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