Education CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by Prit Pat

Re GCSE ICT AQA Syllabus—Cheating

I am writing to you to tell you about the widespread cheating in controlled assessments that are currently taking place. I have direct experience of this on the AQA GCSE ICT course. On this course, pupils must do one exam and two projects (called “controlled assessment unit 2” and “controlled assessment unit 3”). The controlled assessments are worth 60% of the GCSE. The following examples, by the way, are only a few I could give you. I have informed both AQA and Ofqual but neither has taken any action of any kind.

1. Unit 3—pupils *have* to be given a choice of assignments and should pick one. The idea of choice of projects is an integral part of this unit’s specification. Many teachers however have a class all doing the same assignment. How is this possible? Is it because (a) the teacher “encouraged” them all to do this or (b) chance? With 32 students in a class, the odds of all the pupils picking the same assignment is two to the power of thirty two, or a little over 4,000,000,000. Pupils must be given a choice yet the Exam Board does not ask schools to account for the highly unlikely situation where everyone in a class is doing the same assignment. And Ofqual aren't interested in asking exam boards to account for this either.

2. Unit 3 Assignment eg “How to organise a school prom”—this is the project discussed at teacher training days, to help teachers understand what they have to do. However, more often than not, teachers decide to set up and practice an identical task, except it is called “How to organise a Christmas party”. Absolutely every task that they have to do is identical to the school prom task. The class does it together. They discuss each and every task, the teacher corrects mistakes, gives feedback and the pupils fill their folders with fabulous examples of each task. Then they do the “How to organise a school prom” task on their own—except all it involves is copying the “How to organise a Christmas party” task and changing “Christmas party” to “prom” in each task (and the odd logo from Santa to a set of pupils). Who asks questions about this dubious practice—no one!

3. School A does Unit 2 like an exam. 25 hours. Work on own. No talking. No work taken home. A few A grades but mostly distributed across the grades and slightly lower than predicted ones. School B is more relaxed. Unit 2 is not done like an exam. Pupils can talk, discuss what they’ve done, use the Internet but all work is done in front of a teacher. Grades in line with predicted grades or slightly better. School C is sure that it is okay to let pupils do what they want and they can take work home and finish it off, and can take work home and do it as well if they like. The teacher (of course) will sign it off as similar work to what the pupil normally produces so it is okay to do this. The Head is so happy. Lots of children have done better than predicted grades.

I continue to be shocked that all it would take is for one Ofqual inspector to spend a couple of days popping into a dozen schools and seeing for themselves what is going on, looking at a few pupils’ folders, talking to a few pupils and asking a question or two of teachers. If just one person did this, they would know what a mess the controlled assessments have become in two days time, and could take action. Exam boards acknowledge this is what is happening at the teacher training days but do nothing to warn schools away from it.

I really hope that someone starts looking at this now. Perhaps you might ask AQA’s exam chief (and the others) why they are happy to let schools cheat like this.

December 2011

Prepared 2nd July 2012