Teachers concerned by epidemic of plagiarism

The epidemic of plagiarism by students copying and pasting whole chunks of work from the internet has spread to pupils in schools, as they seek ways to push up marks for coursework.

The trend in universities is so rife that undergraduates are asked to sign "honour codes" disavowing the temptations of cyberspace.

Now a study among sixth-form pupils sitting A-levels and students at further-education colleges has found nearly two-thirds (58 per cent) of teachers believe the copying of material from the internet is a problem. More than a quarter (30 per cent) of the work submitted to them involves plagiarism to a greater or lesser degree.

More than half of the 278 teachers interviewed in the study by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) said their school did not have a policy on plagiarism or, if it did, they were unaware of it. However, the study also revealed some laughably crude attempts by students to bluff their way to success. One essay submitted by a pupil in Leeds still contained the adverts from the website he had copied the material from. Another piece of work was copied entirely from the Daily Express. But other methods of cheating were more subtle and could only be detected through lengthy research to find the source website, the study found.

Dr Mary Bousted, head of the ATL, which represents 160,000 teachers and lecturers, said the poll highlighted the dangers of putting too much emphasis on examination scores.

"Unsurprisingly, pupils are using all the means available to push up their marks, often at the expense of any real understanding of the subjects," she said. "In the long term, pupils are the losers because they will lack the skills they appear to have."

A separate study found 54 per cent of students admitted plagiarising work from the internet. Some companies advertise essay-writing services, with dissertations at £40-50. Last year, Google said it would no longer carry ads for essay-writing services.

The practice of passing off another's work as one's own is as old as any human endeavour. Among those accused of plagiarism were Samuel Coleridge, Oscar Wilde and Martin Luther King. As TS Eliot put it: "Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal."

How teachers spot cyber-cheats

* "I had one piece of work so blatantly cut and pasted that it still contained adverts from the web page."

* "The worst example was a postgraduate-standard essay, supposedly about Hamlet but referring to minor Jacobean dramatists, from a girl who couldn't tell the difference between 'it's' and 'its' in her own work."

* "A pupil who was quite weak had some very purple patches in his German coursework. We knew he could not have produced such good sentences on his own. He swore he had worked really hard and checked carefully. My colleague ran the sentence through Google.de and found passages had been taken word-for-word from a German newspaper."

* "As an example, an exam board supplied a unit of coursework that got an A grade, even though 90 per cent of it was copied word-for-word from a textbook."

* "A student handed in a piece from the Daily Express as their own. This was easily spotted."

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