Teachers are being put under pressure to “inflate” and “invent” pupils' marks in science coursework to improve their schools' GCSE results and boost their league table rankings, according to research being published today.
The research, by former Ofsted inspector Birendra Singh, includes interviews with science teachers at secondary schools in an outer London borough telling how they felt pressurised into inflating their pupils' marks.
In one case, a teacher was asked: “Are you saying that .. assessments are being done in such a way to give the child a higher level or higher grade than the one they will achieve through an accurate assessment.” The reply was “Yes, basically.”
The teacher then told of one pupil given a grade C target who was functionally illiterate - who was given a teaching assistant for the assignment.
“When I have read the work that the TA has actually submitted or the child has submitted with the help of the TA, the quality of the writing is that of an adult. And it's clear to me that the child is not responsible for what has been written on the paper. The clarity of thought is far too deep,” said the teacher,
“I do suspect that perhaps the child hasn't achieved the standard in their science work that the piece of work in front of me suggests they have achieved.”
The teacher said he passed the work on to course supervisors and it was awarded a C grade. In the BTEC qualification under discussion there was no grade lower than a C - it was C or fail. The teacher said, in his judgement, the child should have failed.
In a separate interview, a teacher told of a class that had had eight separate teachers - most supply - during the course of the year. “Nobody had bothered to get these kids to complete their coursework - just gave them a C,” the teacher added.
The exam board had asked for samples of their work and “now we are having to get them to complete their coursework, I mean copy or we tell them what and how to do it...”, said the teacher.
In another case a teacher told of how pupils had left the school - and were not coming in for classes, A deputy head said they had to come in otherwise the results “would go through the floor”, “So we have got to falsify the... results,” the teacher said. “It is going to come down to falsifying the entries and I am not going to do it.”
Professor Michael Reiss, professor of science education at the University of London's Institute of Education, said he found the research “depressingly convincing”.
“The pressures on teachers and their students to perform in league tables is such that we are likely to hear more of such cases - and in other key subjects, too,” he added.
“The present government is intending to reform how league table performance is calculated, which is encouraging. In addition, teachers and headteachers need to remember what education is fundamentally for, rather than get sucked into unacceptable practices.”
The findings come as one exam board, the OCR, is calling for a ban on coursework marks counting towards GCSE results. Mark Dawe, its chief executive, argued that coursework was “a headache for teachers”.
“They are torn between needing to continually improve their exam results and yet also to be impartial assessors of their pupils' coursework.”
Education Secretary Michael Gove is king on a major review of GCSE exams - under which the amount of coursework will be dramatically curtailed and more focus put on the end-of-course exam. He is also reviewing the measurements for league tables with a view to ending the focus on five A* to C grade passes including maths and English which is widely seen as having caused the pressure to create more C grade passes.
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