Coursework cheats boost results

21st March 2003 at 00:00
Teachers call for an exam review over fears of widespread 'rule-bending'. Warwick Mansell and Adi Bloom report.

TEACHERS are calling for a crackdown on GCSE coursework amid claims that schools are bending the rules to boost pupils' results.

Concerns have also been raised about pupils submitting for assessment material that have been plagiarised from internet websites offering sample coursework essays.

Contributors to a TES website claim that many schools now give pupils the chance to submit several drafts of a piece of coursework to their teacher before it is formally assessed.

Guidance from exam boards allows "redrafting", but says that teachers should keep any feedback to pupils sufficiently general so that pupils have to work out for themselves how to change their work.

If specific help is given to individual pupils, schools should notify the boards of this when they submit the work for moderation. Teachers also have to sign a declaration that the submission is the pupil's own work.

But messages from teachers on The TES's website staffroom say these rules may be flouted by schools desperate to boost pupils' results and raise their position in league tables. Coursework now counts for up to 60 per cent of pupils' GCSE score.

A supply teacher told The TES that in a private school in Lancashire, which she had recently left, students were allowed up to six "drafts" of English coursework before submitting a final version for formal marking.

She said that at both this school and at a Yorkshire grammar school, she had been put under pressure to allow more than one draft of coursework.

Several contributors said the increasing use of "writing frames", which give pupils a suggested outline for a piece of writing, allowed schools to provide virtual model answers for pupils.

A woman who was head of English at a secondary school in the north of England until last year said: "Certainly it was common to provide a structured plan, paragraph by paragraph, for coursework assignments."

A maths teacher at a Derbyshire comprehensive said: "I have heard of cases in other schools in which the pupil does a piece of work. The teacher then sits down with them and says 'these are the areas I would have to mark you down on, why don't you think about changing it in this way'."

Several website contributors said that coursework was so vulnerable to abuse that it should be replaced by exams. Others argue that rules should be clarified.

George Turnbull, spokesman for the AQA exam board, said: "The examination system depends to a large extent on the professionalism of teachers operating within the rules.

"Anyone caught breaking them is cheating and could see their students disqualified or even end up in court."

Entering "GCSE coursework" into a search engine reveals more than 10 UK-based essay databases, all offering access to complete coursework essays (see story right). But most teachers believe that they would be able to detect an essay copied directly from an online database and submitted as a pupil's own.

"The uniqueness of our personality is in the construction of our sentences.

Your stamp is in there, and that is the kind of thing you cannot duplicate," said Moyra Beverton, English consultant for Bedfordshire education authority.

Is your school bending coursework rules?

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