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Ofqual says marks for computing coursework should end after widespread malpractice in GCSE

The exams regulator has decided to take immediate action to address the 'potential impact on public confidence'

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The exams regulator has decided to take immediate action to address the 'potential impact on public confidence'

Evidence of widespread malpractice with GCSE computer science has prompted Ofqual to propose the practical project component should no longer contribute to pupils’ overall grade from as early as next year.   

The exams regulator has said today that it is “no longer possible for exam boards to ensure that grades awarded in the summer will fairly reflect the ability of all students unless changes are made”.

Tasks and detailed solutions to the project, which is a practical assessment of programming skills, have been discussed on online forums and collaborative programming sites this term contrary to exam board rules, Ofqual has said.

And some of these posts – which Ofqual became aware of shortly after September – had been viewed thousands of times.

The project, known as the non-exam assessment, requires pupils to solve a problem, set by their exam board, and evaluate their solutions. The pupil's report – which includes the program they have written in response to the task – must be their own work and must be completed in 20 hours under tightly-controlled conditions.

It is worth 20 per cent of the computer science GCSE grades being awarded next year.

'Heightened' concerns

The exams regulator added that their concerns had been “heightened” because of the degree of malpractice that was found among students who took the legacy GCSE in computing this summer.

Ofqual has launched a consultation proposing changes to non-exam assessment arrangements for computer science, which currently assesses programming skills, for 2018 and 2019. These include: 

  • Making non-exam assessment no longer count towards a GCSE grade so it is based solely on exam performance.
  • Continuing to require all students to complete one of the non-exam assessment tasks set by the exam boards to meet the curriculum requirements of the course.
  • No longer requiring teachers to formally mark the task, or provide marks to the exam board (although they would be able to use the task to provide formative feedback to students).
  • Requiring exam boards to collect statements from schools confirming that students have been given reasonable opportunities to complete the non-exam assessment task and that 20 hours has been set aside for this.

Today's consultation adds: “We recognise this creates some uncertainty for teachers, as they will not know for certain what is expected of them until we announce our decision.

“We also wish to make changes that do not increase the burden on teachers or students. 

“At the same time, we recognise that there are limits to the changes we can make immediately, and we want to explore a broader range of options for the longer term.”

'Immediate action'

Julie Swan, executive director for general qualifications, said: “It is with great reluctance that we are proposing to change a qualification for which students are already studying.

“However, we must take immediate action to address these issues and the potential impact on public confidence in relation to this qualification."

She added: “Subject to the consultation responses, we believe our preferred solution will deliver fairer and more reliable results than would otherwise be the case. It will also allow us to be confident that standards will be set appropriately.”

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: “It is clear that the integrity of the computer science assessment task has been compromised by the widespread availability of solutions online.

“It is an enormously frustrating situation for all concerned but we recognise that Ofqual has no option other than to consult on alternative arrangements.”

He added: “We agree that this assessment cannot and should not now contribute to final GCSE grades, not least because it would be extremely unfair to students who undertake the task in a proper manner without recourse to online forums.

“It is also clear that other options will be needed in the longer term in an era when the ubiquity of online information makes this form of assessment extremely vulnerable.

“We are pleased to see that Ofqual is planning to consult widely on this issue.”

The consultation will run until noon on 22 December and a decision will be announced in January.

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