It had to happen didn't it?
If you didn't know, the Government in its infinite wisdom and never ending "drive to raise standards" decided to get tough on coursework. This meant that for most subjects it was promptly placed in the bin and, lets face it, this was actually a really good move.
Because I'd wager about 10% of any given piece of work was actually the product of a student.
The sad fact is that schools and sometimes students (if they're feeling particularly weird) are desperate for results. Desperation for results ends up in people finding creative ways in which to make improvements and coursework was the absolute worst for this kind of thing. Doing an essay? Go through 15 "drafts" and each time just add in what I tell you. Languages work? Lets work on the answers before hand or memorise some text from Google Translate. When I took German GCSE I did it because my mother spoke it for her job and I knew all I'd have to do for my coursework would be to memorise whatever I could get her to write for me.
Maths used to have coursework and I know for a fact that it simply became a badge of honour between parents who all wanted to be the first to find the formula for the given task, which then went round the rest of the class like wildfire in an improved version of what happens in form and break times across the country every day as students trade their homework to others.
Don't get me started on homework.
Then there's computing. Out of everyone, we really were the worst because it was quite simply a case of being able to Google the correct code and you could copy and paste an acceptable solution to most GCSE tasks together in a few weeks. "Controlled conditions" meant that students were only subtly told what to do rather than just being given the answer, because you feel less guilt cheating that way. Failing that, lets write a "this is oddly similar to the real thing" practise task which we then change a few lines of text in and hand in as our "real thing."
Last year my students did it properly. No, really. I didn't help them write their code. I didn't tell them what to write and I didn't decide to have students work "miraculously" improve over night when it was clear they were going to fail. This goes against what happens in a huge number of classrooms up and down the country. As a result, my students coursework was reasonable. Not poor, but reasonable. Some students absolutely smashed it, they were natural programmers, but most just did a competent job - and this is key.
There are few natural programmers.
There are even fewer natural programmers who show it at GCSE.
But, now sit down when I tell you this, somehow the average coursework results were rather high and would contradict that.
Turns out there had been a lot of "accidental assistance" up and down the country. As a result, my students actually performed absurdly well in the exam but proportionally not as well in the coursework.
Nationally, that kind of thing looks rather odd. Why? Well, and stay seated, it seems that nationally students perform far, far better in coursework than in their exams. How can this be? Is it that they're simply better at coursework than exams?
No. Sadly, its their teachers who are better at coursework than exams.
So the Government set out on its crusade to put this right and in many ways it looked like a good start had been made. The marks went down from anywhere around 60% all the way down to a maximum of 20% of your final grade. Then they banned the internet - which has to be one of the most absurd things in the history of poor decision making. Think about it:
Now, the Government isn't that thick, they asked Ofqual/JCQ to threaten inspection visits to schools on a random basis and also if their exam results were obviously worse than the coursework results.
Which was good, right?
The worrying thing is that this coursework has been leaked from a school. The only way to get the tasks is if you've got a log in to the exam board of your choice and the rules are clear:
So someone took it home....
....and lo and behold solutions appeared on the internet.
This just drives me up the wall because there are schools out there that do it properly and really do play by the rules. We're one of them.
Having taken a good look at the tasks when they came out, we took the calculated risk of taking a significant time out of our schedule to properly prepare our students to plan and write code unassisted. We spent hour after hour learning not only how to plan code on paper but then go and implement it in our chosen language. We didn't start the coursework until we were convinced the majority had it in the bag and had the tools they needed to code for themselves.
They were confident - are confident. They've built up, week after week, a set of skills that mean they can tackle most problems. The down side is we now have far less time than other schools to prepare for the exam, but that's ok because this is still 1/5 of their marks, right?
Not any more.
You see, what the government giveth, the government taketh away. We've spoken before about the rush to fill our schools with "real computing" because we all know there's a huge skills shortage and technology is going to only grow.
As Kryten once said, "An excellent plan, sir, with only two minor flaws."
You see, the thing about CS is.... it is neck beard central. It is an area of study that is so devoid of people skills and personality that it could quite easily form a weird form of black hole which simply sucks the very soul out of the universe, from which no one even remotely interesting will escape past the event horizon, leaving behind a world that is eerily quiet as the remaining population stay indoors for fear of accidentally socialising with someone and dissolving from the awkwardness as a result.
This means there is a shortage of people who want to teach it, before we even get to the problem of those teaching it actually being any good - or at least ones not hung up on their own ideologies which they spend their time at CAS conferences massaging their ego along with other like minded personalities.
So what happens when you suddenly erase ICT from schools and push everyone into CS even though they haven't the faintest idea about computing and can't program let alone teach it? (hey everyone, best learn Python because that's what we do when we don't think for ourselves and like to just jump on the bandwagon!)
What happens is people take the path of least resistance.
And lessons are a car crash.
And people cheat.
So I'm not sure the blame entirely lies at the door of the government, but teachers have to take some responsibility also. As a famous meme said - "you had one job." That job was simple - don't cheat, don't let kids put the task online and don't share answers to it.
Because when you do, the few institutions that do it properly now have to explain to students who have played the game, come along for the ride, believed in you, followed your instructions and done a bloody good job off the back of this that their work is now, quite literally, worthless.
Sorry, kids. At least we still have our morals intact.
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