February 24, 2004
"If the work is sub-standard, you help the pupil to beef it up."

I already have a word for this. Sovietisation:

Having taught GCSE since the exam was introduced 15 years ago, I have become convinced that the coursework element of it is a national scandal. I think people outside the profession would be aghast if they knew how widely abused it is.

For the past 10 years I have been head of the modern languages department in an ordinary comprehensive with 1,000 pupils. Many of them are well-motivated children with supportive parents, but we have our share of disadvantaged and disaffected youngsters. Thanks to the commitment and hard work of the staff, our GCSE pass rate has been improving steadily.

League tables compare the performance of one school against another. The same sort of comparisons are made between parallel classes in the same school. So the onus is on teachers to do all they can to maximise their pupils' marks. One aspect of that is ensuring that every piece of coursework is of the highest possible standard.

If a pupil hands in a piece of work that you feel he could not possibly have done on his own, the days are long gone when integrity and honour would have obliged you to question it. If the work is sub-standard, you help the pupil to beef it up. And then, of course, what you do for one, you must do for the others.

This used to be called cheating. Now, it's the job.

Concluding paragraphs:

The consequence is that our pupils achieve a higher mark for their writing than for all the other parts of the exam, even though it is the hardest element. This is never queried by the GCSE board. Why should it be? It is the same in every other school because - I can only assume - my colleagues are also giving their pupils lists of phrases and sentences to use.

When all the written work is complete, the pupils sign a declaration that it is their own work. The declaration is counter-signed by the teacher, with emotions that can easily be imagined.

The truth is that coursework cannot be policed in such a way that teachers do not succumb to pressure to manipulate the results. I believe it is time to put an end to the scandal. Let teachers teach. Don't put them in the position of having to do the exams as well.

Every year the government asks the teachers: how are you doing? And every year the teachers reply: better and better. A steady improvement.

The real killer punch in this story is that the government itself knows that this is what is really going on. How could they not?

But why would they want to admit that their policies aren't working as well as they've been saying? That's the really "soviet" bit.

The teachers aren't the only ones bending the rules.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 09:03 PM
Category: Sovietisation