Demise of coursework has killed drafting skills, warns academic

3rd June 2011 at 01:00
Controlled assessment 'fundamentally changes the way English is taught', she says

The end of GCSE coursework has "fundamentally" changed English teaching and means pupils no longer learn essential drafting skills, according to an influential academic.

The concern of Bethan Marshall, senior lecturer in English and education at King's College London, about the effect of the introduction of controlled assessment to English GCSEs this year is shared by the National Association for the Teaching of English (NATE).

The replacement for coursework allows pupils to prepare in advance for a piece of work which they actually write in the classroom under controlled conditions.

Dr Marshall's objection is that they are not allowed to take any previous drafts of their work into the room with them.

"This fundamentally changes the way English is taught," she writes in The TES this week. "Drafting is a process that goes on outside the four walls of the classroom all the time."

Dr Marshall says it is a valuable skill used in universities and by professional writers, that pupils used to be able to develop through GCSE coursework.

Pupils were able to assess each others' drafts and suggest where improvements could be made.

"This is surely what we want," Dr Marshall writes. "We do not want the first attempts of a student at writing an essay. We want their considered and well thought through opinions."

NATE director Ian McNeilly admits that some teachers and some English departments had operated outside the spirit of the old coursework arrangements by allowing "umpteen" redrafts of pupils' work.

But he said: "Drafting, as Bethan Marshall rightly says, is a learning process. Name me one successful writer who doesn't redraft their work.

"There is a possibility of a very reduced type of drafting within controlled assessment, but it is very much less than under coursework. We have got to get the balance right."

Dr Marshall said she would "dearly love" to see coursework returned to English GCSEs.

"I know that some people did take drafting to the extreme so you could say that people should only do two or three drafts," she explained.

"I think the fact that no drafts are allowed to be taken in at all is unreasonable.

"Drafting is an essential part of writing. A child will need this skill in later life and school is the place to learn it."

A Department for Education spokesman said: "The previous administration introduced the policy of controlled assessments. This Government will ask Ofqual to reform the GCSEs. We will report back on these developments in due course."

Comment, page 25

CONTROLLED ASSESSMENT

GCSE rescue

Controlled assessment replaced coursework in most subjects when new GCSE specifications began to be taught in September 2009, and last year for English and ICT.

It was proposed in 2007 by the then Qualifications and Curriculum Authority to raise public confidence in GCSEs, which had been dogged by concerns that coursework encouraged plagiarism and cheating.

Some schools had been criticised for supplying coursework essay plans, lists of phrases and giving pupils excessive assistance with redrafting.

One ICT teacher responding to an NUT survey said: "The coursework moves like a tennis ball between student and teacher until it fits the marking criteria and until the predicted grade of the school is achieved."

But many teachers fiercely opposed abolishing coursework as it gave pupils uncomfortable with traditional exams opportunities to do themselves justice.

Although controlled assessment allows pupils to prepare for extended pieces of work at home, it is closer to traditional exams as the work itself is produced under supervised conditions.

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