GCSE coursework is formulaic, predictable and vulnerable to cheating by pupils, parents and their teachers, a Qualifications and Curriculum Authority report confirmed today.
The QCA's review, which calls for the scrapping of coursework in nine GCSEs, offers damning insights into how the original goals of out-of-class assignments have been lost in many subjects.
Although a QCA survey found that two thirds of teachers did not want coursework scrapped, its monitoring reports found that: In design and technology, coursework marks give no credit for creativity.
In double science, the breadth of "interesting" practical work is falling.
Marks are often not merited, because schools "over-rehearse" practicals, especially with lower ability pupils.
Geography: difficult (for exam boards) to determine how much teachers have helped pupils.
Languages: coursework may help pupils' writing skills. But there are problems of "authentication, over-preparation and predictability".
English: assignments have become formulaic. Making them less structured could make marking less reliable.
History: too open to manipulation by students, schools and colleges.
The report found that league tables, exam targets and payment by results had contributed to some of these problems. Because of the pressures on teachers to raise results, "it is likely that internal assessment of GCSE and A-levels... has become a less valid form of assessment", the report said.
The QCA also believes plagiarism is a risk. But 82 per cent of 700 teachers surveyed did not believe their students abused the internet.
Summarising the survey, the QCA said: "Teachers' views about coursework are fairly positive. Nearly all acknowledge that it benefits their students."
Only 7 per cent said students did not benefit in some way.
Some 29 per cent said coursework helped build students' skills, a quarter said it encouraged independent learning and one in five said it made pupils work in depth on a subject.
However, 36 per cent conceded it was time-consuming for pupils, and a quarter said students found it hard to meet deadlines.
Some two thirds of teachers complained about the marking burden, but this did not mean they wanted coursework scrapped. Two thirds wanted it retained.
However, the QCA appears to believe that out-of-class assessments cannot retain public confidence, given the availability of assignments on the internet and the pressures on teachers.
In the survey, 84 per cent of teachers admitted helping their pupils by allowing re-drafts of essays, 73 per cent provided a checklist of what to include and 52 per cent gave pupils detailed essay outlines.
The QCA report said its preference had been to replace coursework with exams in those subjects which were to lose it.
But this carried big risks. Exams cost boards up to five times more to administer than coursework, and these overheads were likely to be passed to schools. More exams could require an additional 1,000 English examiners, and 300 for religious studies.
The QCA will investigate introducing teacher-supervised assessments for all subjects where conventional coursework is going. Final recommendations will be made by the spring.