Coursework Science News

GCSE coursework for Computer Science will not count for any marks amid fears about widespread cheating, the exam watchdog has said.

The move follows concern that thousands of students were given undue assistance, with Ofqual finding dozens of examples where students were able to obtain answers posted on online forums and websites.

Examples of malpractice included students posting the tasks on forums asking for help, with other members responding with detailed solutions and code which they could simply copy and past.

The watchdog has now ruled that coursework - which is meant to make up 20 per cent of a student’s overall grade - will not count towards the final grade for all Computer Science students sitting their exams in 2018 and 2019.  

“The speed with which the tasks appeared on-line and the number of times the discussions and solutions were viewed threatened the integrity of this aspect of the qualification,” Ofqual’s report said.

In November, the exams watchdog launched a consultation on changes to computer science.

Yesterday, their report said that responses to the consultation confirmed their view that the “current situation is untenable”.

Marks for practical assessments in computer science will not count towards pupils' GCSE grades from this summer – despite widespread opposition to the change.

Ofqual has announced the decision today following a consultation – which was launched in November last year after the exams regulator discovered widespread malpractice had taken place.

Teachers and students were found to have discussed solutions or advice for the non-exam assessment – a practical project assessing pupils’ programming skills – online last term, contrary to exam board rules.

And just last week, Ofqual suggested that that widespread malpractice in computing was likely to have contributed to a 149 per cent rise in penalties issued to school staff last summer.

Ofqual consultation

The consultation, which received more than 2,500 responses, found that the majority of respondents believed the non-exam assessment had shortcomings (70 per cent) and changes should be made (75 per cent).

Ofqual said: “The responses to the consultation have confirmed our view that, regrettably, the current situation is untenable and must be addressed to make sure the qualification is fair for all students and to preserve the credibility of the qualification itself.”

However, more than half (54 per cent) of respondents disagreed with Ofqual’s preferred approach – to require all pupils to complete the task even though it would not count towards a 9 to 1 grade in the new GCSE.

Many, including exam boards AQA and WJEC, wanted the non-exam assessment – worth 20 per cent of the new computer science GCSE – to still contribute to pupils’ grades this summer.

GCSE concerns

Grades will now be determined by pupils’ exam performance alone. However, Ofqual has said GCSE pupils should continue to complete the project in 20 hours under controlled conditions.

The consultation report states: “Teachers, students and exam boards raised concerns that students who had invested effort in their non-exam assessment task would feel de-motivated if their performance in the task did not contribute to their final grade.

“This could undermine their confidence in the qualification and their determination to perform well in their exams.”

Many teachers said the task should be abandoned altogether if it was no longer to contribute to the grade, as they said time could be better spent preparing students for their exams.

'Strong views'

In a letter to pupils, Julie Swan, Ofqual's executive director for general qualifications, said: “We regret that it was necessary to change the qualification at this stage and recognise that it could be unsettling for you.

“We read all the responses to our consultation. It is clear that many of you have strong views about the current situation. We know that not everyone will agree with our decision.

“However, if we do not act now, it would be impossible for us to correct any unfairness caused by rules being broken.”

Ofqual said there was no single alternative approach proposed by consultation respondents for which there was unequivocal support.  

The watchdog has not yet decided on the assessment arrangements for the computer science GCSE for pupils taking their exams after 2019. 

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