Ofqual is advising teachers to look out for students who are cheating by submitting coursework completed by online essay writing companies.
The essays are sold to pupils on the basis that they are “model answers” to be used as “learning aids”, but Ofqual is concerned that students are cheating by submitting them as their own work.
Glenys Stacey, Ofqual chief regulator, said: “Teachers are... advised to look out for these essays being submitted. They can look out for a change in style in how the student normally writes, or even a very fast turnaround of a piece of work.”
The warning from the exams regulator came as it published a study revealing that the sample essays were substandard and poor value for money. Researchers, commissioned by the watchdog, asked three companies to produce A-grade A-level history and English coursework essays costing from £70-£220.
None of the six pieces they received were judged by examiners to be of the A-grade standard asked for and one was assessed to be worth either an E grade or a U grade complete fail.
The report, by the London Economics consultancy, found that the essays showed “almost universal ignorance of the scope of the work to be undertaken and associated criteria for assessment” and a “lack of in-depth analysis”.
“Overall, the commissioned essays were considered to be of poor quality and fell well short of what might be expected from a representative student at this stage of their academic career,” the report concludes.
The researchers went to different companies in a mystery-shopping exercise and found “a significant degree of evasiveness when answering questions relating to the nationality of writers or the qualifications held by writers”.
Their report says that essay-writing services may “devalue the currency of UK education qualifications” and potentially “defraud those students who undertake their studies without use of these ‘support’ services”.
Ms Stacey said: “These essays are poor quality. Anyone who buys them isn’t getting value for money. And more importantly, while there can be valid reasons for students buying these essays, such as essay practice or research, any attempt to pass this work off as the student’s own is cheating.
“We want a level playing field for students, with each student assessed fairly, and so decided to look into this issue more closely. One of the more shocking findings was that the essays supplied by these companies are not even the grade they claim to be.”
Of the six supposedly A-grade essays, examiners judged one to be worth a B, two a C-D grade, one D-E, another E and the last one U-E.
Teachers asked to blow final whistle on exam cheating - June 2014
Plagiarism by university applicants soars - February 2011