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Primary Education News
News Stop counting coursework towards GCSE grades, urges exam board
OCR says coursework is open to abuse and 'disliked by many teachers and loathed in some subjects'
The UK's largest examination board has called for an end to coursework counting towards pupils' GCSE grades in England, labelling it as cumbersome, open to abuse and "disliked by many teachers and loathed in some subjects".
The report by the OCR exam board comes as the Department for Education and the exams regulator Ofqual mull proposals to revise GCSEs, including the role of coursework, known as "controlled assessment".
Mark Dawe, the board's chief executive, said: "OCR recognises that the way coursework is currently assessed in the classroom fails to give reliable results. It's time for a major rethink on coursework so that everyone can have full confidence in the exam system."
Michael Gove, the education secretary, said this year that internal assessment such as coursework "should be kept to a minimum and used only where there is a compelling case to do so", making grades dependent on a final examination at the end of two years' study.
Controlled assessment – work done in the classroom, supervised by teachers under exam conditions – was introduced in 2009. The amount of coursework currently used towards final grades for each subject varies, with up to 60% of marks in GCSE English coming from coursework, compared with 25% in science.
The OCR report says internally assessed coursework is vulnerable to being abused by schools. Although it stops short of accusing schools of cheating, the report makes reference to schools using coursework to "optimise students' grades", and "upward-tilted marking" caused by "potential leniency".
"[Teachers] are torn between needing to continually improve their exam results and yet also to be impartial assessors of their pupils' coursework," said Dawe.
Among the alternatives to teacher-led assessment, the report suggests exam boards conduct assessments through school visits, but notes that this would be "frighteningly expensive, and complex to organise".
Some educationalists argue that removing coursework could disproportionately hurt girls' results. For 25 years girls have outperformed boys in most subjects at GCSE level, while some research suggests boys tend to perform more confidently in exams alone.
In a separate submission to Ofqual, OCR said the regulator's plan to replace GCSE letter grades with a numerical grading system of 1 to 8 points would not show a clean break with past exams because it was too close to the old system.
"Where the old and new grades can be readily equated, there are huge pressures and disadvantages both for pupils on the old system and pupils who are exposed to the first five or so years of the new system," OCR wrote.
OCR also objected to Ofqual's statement that GCSE performance should be used to hold schools accountable. "Exam results are only one indicator by which a school should be held accountable, and not the only one. There are a wide range of factors such as teaching quality, access for students from disadvantaged backgrounds, pastoral care, leadership which need to be accounted for, and focusing too heavily on examination results can have detrimental effects on the others," OCR said.