Crackdown on exam cheats is unworkable, say teachers

Since last year, pupils have done assessments in class to prevent excessive reliance on outside help

A plan to cut down on cheating in GCSEs has proved too difficult to implement and reduced learning time, the exams watchdog has admitted.

Ministers stopped pupils from doing their coursework at home in an attempt to prevent them getting their parents or friends to do the work for them – or relying too heavily on material cribbed from the internet. Instead, as of September 2009, they were instructed that they should do their assessments in controlled conditions in the classroom.

However, in a 113-page document published today, Qfqual says that four out of 10 teachers have found the changes too difficult to implement, findings that teachers' leaders called "worrying".

One in eight of the 800 teachers questioned for the research wanted to go back to old-style coursework because of the problems. The teachers, who were questioned by Ipsos MORI, said that presiding over the assessment left them with much less time to actually teach their pupils the curriculum.

French, geography and history teachers were the most concerned about the way the changes were introduced, with one in five French teachers also saying the Government should go back to the old method of studying for the exams.

In all, 54 per cent of French teachers, 53 per cent of geography teachers and 46 per cent of history teachers warned of difficulties implementing the plan.

Teachers said that the new method, known as controlled assessment, was now just a "memory test" with pupils trying to recall what they may have gleaned at home before going into the classroom. In other words, they were still relying on outsiders helping them with their work.

Teachers also said they were left in a dilemma as to what to do about pupils who were absent from the controlled assessment, possibly through illness, and were unclear whether they should allow them to do it at home.

In French there was also a particular problem with oral examinations because pupils were expected to prepare for them in silence in the classroom rather than practise the language. The report says teachers believe that meant that the preparation was "inadequate".

It adds: "They feel it tests the students' memories because they can easily regurgitate info they have learnt at home." The teachers also warned the new assessment methods added to the stress on pupils,as they are doing all their assessments in exam-style conditions.

Ofqual said last night it would be discussing the report's findings with exam boards. The Education Secretary, Michael Gove, who has ordered a review of exams, wants to put more emphasis on the final examinations which would effectively cut down on the amount of controlled assessments.

Meanwhile, leaders of the Government's academies are warning that the new English baccalaureate could jeopardise their freedom to determine their own curriculum – one of the main boasts made by Mr Gove for his academies programme. Under the Government's proposals, a pupil will obtain a baccalaureate certificate for five A*-C grade passes at GCSE provided they are in English, maths, a foreign language, a science and a humanities subject – history or geography.