Letters extra: Maths coursework cheating, the cause and a cure

12th September 2003 at 01:00

I was interested to read the article "Cheats seek tutors to do coursework" (TES September 1). The reason such "cheating" occurs in mathematics is because coursework is usually treated as a bolt-on extra to what happens in classrooms and is assessed externally, making it a high-stakes event. If coursework was seen as an integral part of classwork, then much, if not all, such "cheating" would be eradicated.

From 1986 to 1989, the Association of Teachers of Mathematics, in partnership with the Southern Examining Group ran a pilot 100 percent coursework-assessed GCSE scheme. There were initially just seven schools involved from Cumbria to Oxford. Students produced portfolios that contained evidence of the work they had done over the course of Y10 and Y11. Because these portfolios provided evidence of ongoing classwork, homework, end of topic tests and write-ups of 'investigations', then class teachers knew whether the work was the student's own or not. Indeed, if a student ever did produce something out of the ordinary and well beyond the overall standard of work in a portfolio, it only took a few questions to know whether the student had properly understood the work they had submitted. Because of the ongoing monitoring,nbsp; such situations rarely arose.

Furthermore, because the coursework was not treated as a separate event, then teachers were able to employ investigative teaching techniques to help students learn about mainstream concepts, such as Pythagoras and trigonometry.

Sadly this scheme was halted in its infancy, mainly because of to a decision taken by the Education Secretary Kenneth Clarke to reduce the percentage of coursework weighting at GCSE. Not only did this decision lay the foundations for current forms of "cheating", in GCSE coursework, it also called a halt to an amazing professional development initiative.

If the government wishes to raise standards then it need look no further than its own current assessment-driven ideology and promote greater teacher assessment through inter-school moderation. This is about trusting the professionals who know something about how kids tick and how to get the best out of them as learners.

Mike Ollerton

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