'Challenge the copycats'

29th August 2008 at 01:00
Examiners berate teachers for allowing pupils to gain marks by `copying and pasting' from internet

Senior examiners have taken teachers to task for allowing pupils to gain marks in GCSE coursework copied from the internet.

In the latest of what has become a regular dressing down from the boards, one particularly blatant example was singled out in a report on this summer's science exams.

One teenager wrote in a biology assignment: " . also to substantially attenuate the insulin resistance for example thiazolidinediones . ".

It was not challenged.

Additionally, the reports reveal that pupils were able to gain C grades by scoring as little as 20 per cent on one paper.

Edexcel's report on the new GCSE additional science exam said that plagiarism had been one of its examiners' major fears before the papers were set. In the final analysis, it said, there was some evidence of it taking place. "The work produced by some candidates appeared to have just been copied and pasted from the internet," the report said, "and there was a clear distinction between this work and the candidates' own written work.

"Centres were often awarding marks to candidates based on this copied work and not on candidates' own ability, even when there was an obvious difference between it and typical `student speak'.

"A candidate's comment that `. also to substantially attenuate the insulin resistance for example thiazolidinediones .' apparently was not challenged by the teacher."

The report added that one or two sentences, at most, could be copied from a website, but where this had happened, the source should be acknowledged.

Pupils who could not be trusted to complete assignments out of school should not be allowed to do so. Most GCSEs are being changed to make internet plagiarism more difficult, with coursework taking place under teachers' supervision. However, this does not apply to science, for which syllabuses were revised in 2006.

Examiners' reports have criticised internet plagiarism in the past. In 2005, AQA highlighted "blatant copying" for English GCSE, while in 2003, examiners criticised teachers for signing off coursework as original, even though it was obvious pupils had colluded.

In 2006, a code of practice was introduced, obliging teachers to report pupils who attempted to pass off copied material as their own to the exam board.

Grade boundaries for a C in Edexcel's new additional science exam stood at 40, 37 and 20 per cent for each of the three papers, or 32 per cent overall.

In maths, whose exams have also been revised, the pass mark for a grade C was 40 per cent overall.

The TES has reported in the past grade boundaries of 16 per cent for a C in one maths GCSE.


The Government's review of GCSE coursework, launched in 2006, was supposed to make internet plagiarism impossible. But Edexcel's chief examiner's report on science suggests it is still alive and well.

Ironically, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority's survey of teachers that year found that 82 per cent did not believe plagiarism was a major factor in the production of assignments. And this year's Edexcel report says this practice is "not as widespread as had been feared".

Nevertheless, the QCA proceeded with its 2006 review which promised to replace conventional coursework in nine subjects from 2009 with supervised assessments in class. Science, though, was not included, as it had just been relaunched with more flexible options for students and greater emphasis on scientific topics which feature in the news.

The TES has reported for several years on some teachers' fears that the pressure on teachers to raise results means some push the boundaries themselves on helping children with their coursework.

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