Wednesday, August 02, 2006


Coursework in GCSE maths is likely to be scrapped, and pupils will no longer be allowed to take most of their projects home under plans by the exams watchdog to stamp out cheating. The proposals have been made to try to end the problem of internet plagiarism among teenagers and the desire of parents to "help" with their children's work.

The Government demanded a review of coursework in A levels and GCSEs last November, after the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority found evidence of widespread cheating. One in 20 parents admitted doing their children's coursework at GCSE level. Coursework counts for between 20 per cent and 60 per cent of the overall marks allocated at GCSE and A level. Critics of coursework in maths, in particular, suggest that it does not help a pupil to understand the fundamental elements of the subject.

The latest suggestions were made by Ken Boston, the chief executive of the authority, in a newly released letter to Ruth Kelly, then the Education Secretary. In it he wrote: "We recognise that the practice of students carrying out coursework at home and the wide availability of the internet have created greater opportunities for malpractice. "This gives problems with ensuring authenticity - the extent to which we can be confident that internally assessed work is solely that of the candidate concerned. This is a threat to the fairness of GCSE." Dr Boston advised that the public examinations might be tightened up with a more rigorous assessment of the marking system, coursework being completed in the classroom, as well as by placing a greater emphasis on examinations.

"The consequence of these changes would be that in subjects that involve such activities as creating a physical product, carrying out investigations or performing with others, internal assessment is likely to continue, but under conditions that maximise fairness," he wrote. "Greater use of controlled conditions would also help reduce the assessment burden on students as they would normally take less time to complete their task under controlled conditions than otherwise."

But the chief executive said that tightening the rules must not stop children acquiring the important analytical and research skills that coursework projects can help to develop. "During its initial development, internal assessment in GCSE was seen as a way of enriching the curriculum and ensuring that all aspects of a subject that were important were taught and assessed," he wrote. "We want to ensure that a new approach to internal assessment, including increasing the use of controlled conditions, will not prevent students achieving important educational aims or developing valuable life and work skills."

One subject likely to see coursework axed at GCSE altogether, however, is maths, after the authority's review suggested that teachers had questioned its value. Several public schools, including Harrow, have adopted the maths IGCSE, similar to the scrapped O level, after deciding that the compulsory GCSE coursework, which counts for up to one fifth of marks, was not contributing to the pupils' understanding. Dr Boston said that the authority was drawing up plans for the future of GCSE maths for 2007-10. "If consultation confirms the views expressed in the report, we will take action to reduce or remove coursework from GCSE mathematics and assess the skills involved, where feasible, within the examination," Dr Boston said.

In March the watchdog issued a guide to plagiarism for teachers and gave warning that staff would be guilty of professional misconduct if they let students present plagiarised material as their own. Nick Gibb, the Shadow Schools Minister, welcomed the recommendations. But he called on the watchdog to consider whether coursework was necessary in a range of subjects, including maths and English. "The international GCSE has no requirement for assessed coursework, which is a principal reason why the independent sector is increasingly adopting the IGCSE in maths, English and the three sciences," he said.


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