Major reforms to GCSE coursework have harmed children's learning, a study by the qualifications quango has found.
In 2009, ministers told schools to no longer allow pupils to do coursework at home. Instead, they were told to supervise them doing it in class under exam conditions. They argued that this stopped parents doing the work for pupils and prevented copying from the internet.
But a study by Ofqual shows this new type of coursework – known as controlled assessment – reduces the time children spend learning, stops them from going on school trips and could be unreliable.
Teachers interviewed for the study – Evaluation of the Introduction of Controlled Assessment – fear the new type of coursework has reduced "teaching and learning time".
The study also found that teachers say the amount of time they spend supervising controlled assessment has "narrowed teaching" and given "fewer opportunities for … off-site trips that deepen students' understanding and interest".
They say the new type of coursework poses particular problems for pupils with special needs or who need extra time, and those who miss lessons. They are concerned that it "reduces opportunity for students to develop key skills in refining and editing their work".
Teachers were particularly scathing about the new form of coursework when it came to learning foreign languages. Supervised coursework is "unfit for purpose" for modern languages, many said. "Preparing for oral exams in silence means controlled assessment is inadequate for languages," teachers told the quango.
Schools warn that the new form of coursework tests students' memory, rather than their knowledge or skills.
They fear it encourages pupils to regurgitate information and "impacts negatively on pupils' wellbeing" because the coursework simulates exam conditions.
The study also shows some teachers are worried that schools monitor the new type of coursework in different ways and that this "threatens to undermine its reliability".
Supervised assessment is unrealistic because teachers want pupils to write up their coursework on computers and in many schools there are too few terminals, they add.
Michael Gove, the education secretary, wants more importance placed on the exams pupils take at the end of their GCSE courses, rather than on coursework.
Ofqual polled 809 teachers and carried out 25 in-depth interviews as part of its study. One in eight wanted to return to allowing pupils to take coursework home. This grew to almost one in five among those who taught French. More than half of those who teach French or geography said the new type of coursework was "difficult to implement".
Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT teaching union, said the new form of coursework "seriously jeopardised" pupils' learning.
"Schools are experiencing major scheduling difficulties, a lack of suitable IT resources and practical difficulties associated with accommodating pupils who are absent and for those pupils who are entitled to extra time, which will not be resolved by merely exhorting teachers to do better.
"The secretary of state needs to recognise that rigorous assessment cannot be done on the cheap."
A spokesman for the Department for Education said the government would review the proportion of controlled assessment within GCSEs.
"We recognise the value of such assessment in certain subjects, but will make sure we have the right balance between controlled assessments and external exams in each subject," he said.
Coursework for GCSE Science
This is about the 2006 course. The 2011 course is similar.
See the OCR 2011 specification.
>>Download this information on an A4 mini-poster
GCSE Science coursework (0.8 MB).
Guidance for students
Internal assessment counts for 33.3% of your final grade. The Case study is 20% and Data Analysis 13.3%.
Case study (20%)
Choosing a topic
Choose a topic from one of these categories:
A question where scientific knowledge is not certain (such as ‘Does a mobile phone cause brain damage?’ ‘Is there life in other parts of the Universe?’)
A question about decision-making using scientific information (such as ‘Should the Government stop research into human cloning?’)
A question about a personal issue involving science (such as ‘Should my child have the MMR vaccine?’)
Collect information from different places: books, the internet, newspapers – look for different views on the topic.
Say where each piece of information came from. Make it clear if you have quoted or copied something.
Choose only information that is relevant to the question you are studying.
Say why you chose these sources and how you decided whether they are reliable.
Understanding the question
Use scientific knowledge and understanding to explain the topic you are studying.
When you report what other people have said, say what scientific evidence they had (from experiments, surveys etc).
Making your own conclusion
Compare the evidence and points of view.
Consider the risks of different courses of action.
Say what you think should be done, and link this to the evidence you have reported.
Present your study
Make sure your report is laid out clearly in a sensible order.
Use pictures, tables, charts, graphs etc to present information.
Take care with your spelling, grammar, punctuation, and use scientific terms where they are appropriate.
Creating a Case Study
Where do I start? Sources of information could include:
- school library
- you science textbooks and notes
- local public library
- newspapers and magazines
- museums and exhibitions
Data Analysis (13.3%)
Use tables, charts, graphs or calculations to show any patterns in your results.
Say what conclusions you can make from your data.
Explain your conclusions using your science knowledge and understanding.
Think whether any improvements in your apparatus or method could give more precise and accurate results.
Check how closely each result fits the general pattern and look for any outliers.
Suggest some improvements or extra data you could collect to be more confident in your conclusions.
Keep detailed notes of each stage of your planning and work. Check each result as you get it to see that it fits in with others you already have. If not, consider whether you need to repeat it to check.