IT seems that we have all been asking the wrong question. Faced with the apparently inexorable rise in British student's achievement in A-level and GSCE examinations, we have been asking whether the exams have been getting easier than they were in our days. The question should be whether the inclusion of “coursework” done outside the examination hall and sometimes at home may be the real reason for the greatly improved results. A survey published yesterday by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority revealed worrying indications that coursework undertaken at home is increasingly done with the help of anxious parents and the friendly internet. The survey was extremely thorough: 400 parents, 250 schools, 1'700 teachers and 460 pupils were involved in it. The key paragraph in the report of the survey is this: “Coursework assignments are available on the internet at any level and in any subject. Some of it is freely accessible, while much can be custom made and is available for sale. There are at least ten popular websites producing coursework from GSCE to degree level. With so much work being completed outside school, the use of such sites cannot be controlled.” However, the authority apparently thinks it can be controlled and recommends that exam papers should be scanned by specialist computer software to limit what it calls internet plagiarism. Ruth Kelly, the education secretary, wants parents to be given clearer guidance on the “thin line” between supervising homework and actually helping with it. Teachers are also advised to avoid giving their classes too much help that results in “coursework cloning”. Most teachers believe that coursework has undoubted benefits. In many subjects it can account for 25 per cent of the exam marks and in some as much as 60 per cent. Can this be right?


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