No need to panic over coursework

9th December 2005 at 00:00
As a teacher, academic and former GCSE examiner, I am of course anxious that pupils uphold the traditional scholarly standards when completing coursework for public exams.

Nevertheless, I want to question the assumptions implicit in recent criticisms of coursework and give hardworking children and teachers their due ("Cheating prompts coursework probe", TES November 25).

I would question the notion that using the internet and getting parental help automatically guarantees improved grades.

Pupils would be foolish to think that "borrowing" uncritically from the web will get them a better mark. Although much of value can be found on the internet there is also so much unregulated, ungrammatical and unscholarly material. Similarly, parents may give their input, but it is pupils who are briefed (often precisely) about teacher and exam board requirements and it is pupils who have listened in lessons, become familiar with the textbooks and practised past papers. Most are thus undoubtedly better placed than their parents to know what to do.

There is a real art to doing well at GCSE and A-level - it is not just "common sense", and exam requirements have changed significantly since parents were in school.

I would also doubt that there are really that many teachers who have the inclination to make significant changes to pupils' coursework. Almost all the ones I have met and worked with have such demanding professional lives that they do not have the time It is only at the graduate level and beyond that students are expected to produce "original" work, and endeavours at any other lower level are invariably derivative in some sense. Shouldn't we laud the boy or girl who is anxious to act on his or her teacher's advice to polish, and correct their work in an honest fashion?

Moreover, so what if pupils use a template, writing-frame or checklist to shape their written output? This has been good practice for decades and even the best novelists once learned that a good story has a beginning, middle and end.

Dr Fiona Kisby

70 Bronte Paths

Stevenage, Herts

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