Education: Bring it all back home

School project work has a lot going for it as a teaching method, but it is also a font of parental cheating, rampant copying and a resourcing nightmare.

It was Sunday and a time of domestic bliss until... "Oh," says Doris, "Jim's A-level project is due in on Thursday." His folder revealed three bits of scruffy paper. There have been condemned men's breakfast menus with more writing on them. There then followed a time I can only equate to the German counter-offensive on the western front in March 1918. Bodies loomed up every now and then through the chaos. Panic and despair were everywhere. Only one figure kept calm amid the debris, like Field Marshal Haig, unaware of the total catastrophe that he had created. It is good to have a teenager to remind you of the really important things in life at a time like that: keeping up with the Australian and American soaps; ringing the girlfriend to update her on events; and gazing at your spots for long periods in the mirror.

As a teaching method, project work has a lot going for it. We all want our children to be self-motivated, independent learners. In the last 30 years, project work has come to dominate our classrooms, so in consequence an ever-larger percentage of GCSE and A-level work is devoted to it.

Yet I find myself becoming more and more uneasy about the whole thing. For a start, it places an ever-increasing load on teachers. In old-style education you prepared one lesson; in project work, you virtually prepare as many as there are in the class. Resourcing it is something of a nightmare. If everybody in the class does the same project, then the resources are under an impossible stress. If everybody does something different, then the teacher must find resources to suit each individual need.

For students, project work is a mixed blessing. For the bright and committed, it can be a really exciting opportunity. One of my students filmed and wrote up the experience of being in the Fastnet yacht race. She got sponsorship from Kodak and the loan of a special camera. Not only did she create a wonderful opportunity and gain a good final grade, she also got local and national press coverage. The experience looked good on a Ucas form and it has done well for her at interviews ever since. But most adolescents have a tendency to put things off to the last moment, and project work can mean a lot of wasted time. Group work can mean that one or two pupils tend to do most of the hard graft, while the rest merely tread water.

Assessing project work has been one of the biggest growth areas in education. An army of moderators, verifiers and assessors (internal and external) now exists. A simple task, such as giving feedback to an individual student, can take just five minutes, yet it may take up to two hours to write up as part of the qualification.

Endless boxes must be ticked. (Were you aware of your body language when you gave feedback? Were you aware of the student's body language when you gave feedback? Did you take into consideration the student's race, gender, religion and sexual orientation when you gave feedback?)

I am also increasingly aware that I am often not assessing the student alone, but the student and parents. As the percentage of marks for project work increases and the competition to get into most universities grows, so the temptation to give more than a helping hand gets ever more real. Most parents will deny it and they all know that, in the long term, it is doing students no real favours. But when they are looking down the barrel of a failure or a poor grade, then they often succumb. Those pious statements that students sign to say that the work is all their own often have the sincerity of Hitler's remarks that this was his final territorial demand. Aiding and abetting project work is becoming one of the secret crimes of middle-class Britain.

Then there is new technology. No library can even remotely rival the Internet for information. But, I hear you cry, surely the schools have computers? Of course they do, but getting near one for any long period of time with a project imminent is like joining the queue for a lifeboat on the Titanic.

And this ignores the problems of vandalism, breakdowns, other classes' use and players enjoying card games on the screen. Those students who have access to a computer at home have a massive advantage over those who don't.

New technology has also encouraged something that teachers have largely tried to ignore. The copying of other's work or adapting large chunks grows apace. When it involves other schools and other areas, it is impossible to control. I have heard of a project that has been done by three students already. I suspect that by the time Bill Gates launches Windows 2006, it will be possible to type in "Soil Erosion in Stoke Poges" and press a key and out will come the finished project, complete with WHSmith carrier bag to take it to school.

The truth is that not even Superman or Superwoman could regulate the vast piles of project work piling up for assessment all over the country. For the eight years that I tutored an A-level I used to tie up my projects in a special granny knot. On seven occasions I got them back with the knot untied and the marks unchanged. One year the board lost every single project, so I have no means of knowing.

We need to untie a lot more knots, if projects are to have any real meaning in education.

News
peopleHowards' Way actress, and former mistress of Jeffrey Archer, was 60
Sport
Chelsea are interested in loaning out Romelu Lukaku to Everton again next season
sport
News
Robyn Lawley
people
Arts and Entertainment
Unhappy days: Resistance spy turned Nobel prize winner Samuel Beckett
books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
people
Life and Style
Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson voice the show’s heroes
gamingOnce stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover
News
i100
Life and Style
Phones will be able to monitor your health, from blood pressure to heart rate, and even book a doctor’s appointment for you
techCould our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?
Travel
Ryan taming: the Celtic Tiger carrier has been trying to improve its image
travelRyanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?
News
people
Extras
indybest
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Year 3 Welsh Teacher vacancy in Penarth

£110 - £120 per day + Travel Scheme and Free training: Randstad Education Card...

Male Behaviour Support Assistant vacancy in Penarth

£55 - £65 per day + Travel Scheme and Free Training: Randstad Education Cardif...

SEN Learning Support Assistant vacancy in Penarth

£55 - £65 per day + Travel Scheme and Free Training: Randstad Education Cardif...

Key stage 1 and 2 teachers required for the Vale of Glamorgan

£90 - £110 per day + Travel Scheme & Free Training: Randstad Education Cardiff...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?