When George Rouse decided to stop chasing paper, it marked the start of a success story for ICT students at his Birmingham school. Last year, he adopted a system that allowed GCSE coursework to be produced and assessed online, putting an end to the "nightmare" of managing the reams of printed coursework that usually travel to and fro between teachers and students, even in hi-tech ICT classrooms.
"The results were stunning," says George, who is ICT co-ordinator at King Edward VI Camp Hill School for Boys. "We gave the system to our Year 9 pupils, who take the GCSE Short Course in ICT, and 92.5 per cent achieved A* to B grades, up from 82 per cent in the previous year."
They were working with the Managed Assessment Portfolio System (Maps), a web-based assessment system from Tag Learning. This year Camp Hill has moved on a stage further, joining a pilot run by awarding body OCR and backed by Tag.
OCR is trialling an e-portfolio option for GCSE ICT. It will give schools the chance to send coursework directly from Maps to OCR's moderators, as an electronic portfolio of evidence. At the moment, evidence is printed out, parcelled up and posted - a disappointing prospect for students who may have gone to great pains to produce an impressive website or animated story.
Maps covers key stages 1-4 and Tag has extended the system to cater for submission of e-portfolios to OCR.
"We have a packed curriculum and we see Year 9 in class just once a fortnight," says George. "Getting information to them and chasing up coursework used to be a nightmare. Now they pick up their tasks from Maps via the web, and they can send work to me for feedback as soon as they have finished doing it, rather than having to print it and then find a teacher so they can hand it in. I can see a summary of how things are going, and can send messages to any students whose work is overdue. Year 9 had a part-time teacher last year and she was able to keep track of the work from home."
Pupils each have their own portfolio area, which they can personalise, and there are links to resources. George says: "The support material includes the mark scheme, so the students can do some self-assessment, checking that they have done what is required. Once they are happy, they submit the work to me and I mark it online, linking it to the assessment objectives. I then send it online to OCR for moderation."
Moderators use Maps to view the work and record their decisions on the marking.
Camp Hill students take ICT B, which is geared towards practical projects, and this year's challenge was to help a health centre produce wage slips for its employees. George, who is a senior moderator for OCR, says: "If the students have created a spreadsheet to calculate wages, the actual spreadsheet can now be submitted to the moderator, rather than just sending printouts of the spreadsheet and the students' explanations of which formula does what. That gives a much better feel for what students have actually achieved."
Droitwich Spa High School in Worcestershire is in its second year of the OCR pilot. Enza Smith, assistant head of ICT, says: "Our sixth-formers do GCSE Short Course as an enrichment course, so they can leave with ICT skills. One coursework project was to create an animated children's story using PowerPoint. The students put their heart and soul into it, because they knew it was going to be seen. We used to have to send it off as a black and white printout - budgets won't stretch as far as colour printing."
She says the main benefit has been increased motivation in the classroom.
"Students are going way beyond what is expected by OCR, and although the extra work is not necessarily recognised and they may not get a higher grade, this is spurring them on to develop more skills in the classroom.
"At the moment, they still have to write about how they went about their work. But I believe that everyone in ICT is going to go for online submission, and the qualification will have to be structured differently.
There is no need for students to explain how they copied and pasted a picture, because it is obvious from their PowerPoint presentation how they did it."
At Newlands Girls' School in Maidenhead, every ICT student has had access to Maps since last autumn. Adam King, who is head of ICT, says: "One of the most noticeable areas of improvement is in KS4 GCSE. The advent of Maps could well result in 95 per cent of Year 10 students achieving A to C grades in their coursework - up from 68 per cent last year. Because we can keep track of coursework, it makes life so much better."
The girls do the GCSE Short Course ICT from awarding body Edexcel, so the school is not in the OCR pilot. Adam says: "The students have done two projects - designing a website and a database for organisations of their choice. I have been able to split each project into smaller sections, each with its own deadline. That gives me several opportunities to spot who is not up to date."
Evidence must be submitted to Edexcel moderators on paper, but the school's formative assessment and marking now takes place online.
Adam says: "I can mark the work section by section, without having to rearrange sheaves of paper - one piece of coursework might extend to 60 or 70 pages. I don't have to worry about having my car stolen with all the students' work in it, and we have made huge savings on printing costs."
He says the girls have been doing "unbelievable amounts of work". "Some are doing so well that we are going to suggest they take the full course in short-course time. This system has given them a real belief that they can achieve."