GCSE coursework cut could be reversed

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The Independent Online
THE amount of coursework in GCSE exams may be increased again, just three years after the Prime Minister said it should be reduced. The changes being considered by the Government's advisers on exams are the latest in a series of about-turns on coursework.

John Major said coursework should account for no more than 20 per cent of GCSEs. Ministers said coursework marks, given mainly by teachers, presented too much opportunity for cheating. Plans for more coursework will be unpopular with some Tory backbenchers who think the amount should be cut.

However, Sir Ron Dearing, the Government's chief adviser on exams, supported a review after hearing teachers' protests about cuts in coursework. He is consulting teachers and examination boards about possible changes. Teachers say coursework motivates pupils and gives a broader picture of what they can do.

Any increase would have to be approved by Gillian Shephard, Secretary of State for Education, but exam officials believe a speech two weeks ago by Robin Squire, the junior schools minister, indicates a change of heart among ministers. He said: 'We fully recognise the value of coursework for assessing achievement which can't readily be demonstrated in an exam. We recognise its potential for increasing motivation. . .'

The plans, which would come into force for pupils starting GCSE courses in 1996, are expected to go to the next meeting of the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority in December.

Coursework at present accounts for between 20 per cent of marks in subjects such as maths and 60 per cent, exceptionally, for technology.

Kathleen Tattersall, chief executive of the Northern Examinations and Assessment Board, said: 'We are more optimistic that coursework will be looked at more rationally and less emotively. Prejudice against it appears to have been suspended.'

George Turnbull, from the Southern Examining Group, said exam boards made rigorous checks to ensure coursework was the pupils' own. 'People can and do cheat in terminal exams,' he added.