Friday, October 06, 2006

The end of coursework?

On the BBC this morning there was a report about the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority's desire to end GCSE coursework in a number of subjects, including history and Classical subjects. I've thought about this, and I'm agin.

My reason for this is that in my view assessed coursework helps develop and tests skills that otherwise get overlooked. Basically, this means library work, gathering information, the ability for students to produce their work surrounded by notes and books, and the opportunity to give their work a considered revision (yes, I know most don't, but that's not the point). I don't think a controlled assessment (which essentially looks like just another exam) can develop those skills. So one result of this is that school leavers will be even less prepared for university, where such activity is a vital part of their education, than they already are.

Why is the QCA doing this? From the television report you'd get the idea that it's all to do with preventing students downloading their essays off the Internet. But only a minority of teachers are worried about this, and I think the majority are right. I've always felt that students clever enough to plagiarize in such a way that it can't be spotted are clever enough to have no need of such underhand approaches, whilst those who are too lazy to write their own work are generally too stupid to hide their plagiarism.

The QCA report, on the other hand, seems to have decided that coursework is an inappropriate method of testing learning outcomes. I'm not impressed with this as a reason. I have always felt that coursework and exams test different skills, and an exam-only assessment, which is the way the QCA are heading, discriminates against students who are good in coursework but less good at exams. Since I can't imagine that students will no longer be required to write essays, it's only fair that those essays contribute towards their final mark - otherwise students may feel that essays are a waste of time, and not work too hard on them, with the result that they won't be as well-prepared for the exams as they should be. If, as the QCA suggests, assessed coursework is unfit for purpose in a culture of league tables, perhaps it's the culture that is wrong.

1 comment:

Farah said...

Unfortunately you are wrong about plagiarism. It's a large minority not a small one. Many of the students I catch have clearly been doing what they do for years and think it *is* research.

You teach at the OU which means you teach people who want to learn.

I and most school teachers mostly teach people who want to pass. It's not the same thing at all.

I was very pro-coursework once upon a time. Now, while I'd be happy to give them the questions in advance, I wish I could lock them all up in private cubicles to write their papers. I'd even be willing to suffer their handwriting.