Thursday, November 23, 2006


If we accept that the main purpose of Education is to prepare children for later life, then Coursework, like many other things we do at school, gives them a completely unrealistic impression.

In any job; whether it be accountant, plumber or computer programmer, you get told to do something and it has to be done correctly first time. If there is an agreed deadline then penalties are incurred for not meeting it.

For example if you come to fix my boiler, but leave me shivering in the depths of winter then you will not get paid. If you build me a garden wall and it is not straight then you will have to do it again at much inconvenience and financial loss to yourself. If you are a solicitor and you have not prepared the necessary documents for a company merger due to take place tomorrow morning then you will have to stay in the office and finish them even if it takes all night.

With coursework however, the best strategy is to submit a half hearted attempt, let your teacher mark it and then (if you are not a teacher you might find this next bit hard to believe) hand it back to you with suggestions for how you could improve it. You then resubmit it and in many schools the same thing happens again. Do not worry if it is late or you simply cannot be bothered; your teacher will endlessly remind you, chase you and beg you to hand it in. You may even be given time off from lessons to finish it. No penalties will be incurred for your poor initial effort or lack of basic timekeeping.

Like so much of what we do in school; this is so far removed from what will actually be required of the kids in later life, that it is comical. Sadly it's also a complete waste of the teacher's time and any profession with a decent union (more on the farce that is the motley collection of Teaching Unions later) would have put a stop to it long ago.


youdontknowme said...

If you are talking about uni coursework you might be right. you are unlikely to have to do presentations or company mergers if you only go to college. I am studying double applied business at college which is mostly coursework based and it is hard.

I am in the middle of a piece of coursework now. I have written 60 pages and I am not even half finished yet.

Anonymous said...

Most jobs also require you to make a fairly quick decision armed only with what you have in front of you. You then have to live with that decision.

eg. a barrister in court, a salesman or a builder giving a quote.

Coursework doesn't teach this. It just reinforces the idea that time doesn't matter and you can have second or third chances which is simply not real life.

Anonymous said...

Coursework was brought in simply to help the girls.

CaliforniaTeacherGuy said...

It should be called Coarsework, because it is definitely not refined.

Anonymous said...

It is madness, a waste of hours and hours of our time. Our HOD has just reminded us that we can hand it back with suggestions for improvement (i.e. practically do it for them) 'as many times as necessary'!

Well, Whoopee! I can spend the rest of my term doing that then

Mr. Smallcock said...

Coursework, the great ruiner of science practicals. 6 weeks of tedium weighing potato tubes, endless rewrites,its finished off my interest never mind the kids. Ive never ever ever received a piece of coursework that was worthy of entry straight off. Ive even worked in schools that had special after school and lunchtime coursework boosters where the stuff was practically dictated to the kids.

Anonymous said...

Solution : subtract 10% from their score for each try more than the first.

Teach :
"Do it right, the first time, on time, every time", 'cos that what counts in real life.

Anonymous said...

Coursework is rubbish. My oldest child is very bright. Second and third not so. # 2 & 3 just printed off courseword that #1 and I composed together. Results A's. Easy life for me and # 2&3!

Anonymous said...

My pet irritation is the fact that not only am I doing the exam board's job of marking it for nothing, if they were doing it, would they be revising and improving and then staying behind after work and during the holidays to pander to the terminally idle who couldn't be arsed to do it in class?

Even when I bundled a load of evidence of blatant cheating together (from two schools) and sent it to AQA, QCA and Charles Clark I got a an anodyne response along the lines of "we depend upon teachers to maintain the integrity of the process". But guys, I've just told you I am cheating and so is my school......

Nobody cares.

youdontknowme said...

I thought I heard on the news a couple of weeks back that they are going to be changing the system of coursework so you can only hand it in once?

alanorei said...

I take YDKM's point. I am a (none too) soon-to-be retired university lecturer.

(I read today that my replacement has been appointed, a young woman. Makes me feel 'over the hill.')

Owing to the nature of the subject I taught (Chemical Engineering, i.e. hard maths, hard science, strictly speaking only for fairly sound performers at St John's (we did get some), most likely not St Jude's (though we'd possibly take them, to get the numbers up) - see Mr Chalk's admirable book), we do use course work, or ICA, 'In Course Assessment' as it's called officially.

It consists of:

1. Written assignments, the number of which may be set by the lecturer, amounting to 40-50% of the total mark for the individual subject. To guard against plagiarism (often not a serious problem, actually), these may be given as 2-hour class tests.

2. Lab reports, of which approximately 5 should be submitted by each student during a semester (approximately 15 weeks).

3. Design Project, which is carried out over the year. Likewise a Research Project.

2 and 3 are clearly 100% coursework assessed.

The main features of the above, with respect to assessment, are deadlines and the consequences of missing them.

Unless mitigating circumstances apply (e.g. mature P/T students in industry working shifts or offshore etc. - though staff need to be careful here to strike a balance between firmness and fairness) fixed deadlines apply. If you miss the deadline, you can submit work up to 7 days late for coursework type 1 above and receive 40%, maximum, for a pass. (Types 2 and 3 have equivalent extended deadlines, again with 40% maximum marks.)

Failure to submit after the extended deadline results in a mark of 0%.

If a student is required to resubmit work, of any of the above types, it is invariably because he/she has failed, even if the work is in on time. Again, a 40% maximum applies.

So there aren't any easy options.

Simple, really...

I am describing HE of course but I recall that all education operated pretty much like this once upon a time (1950s, 60s, 70s). (Mine certainly did, even out in the colonies, i.e. Sydney, Australia.)

Those were the days...

Anonymous said...

A friend of mine takes two year old course work done by his daughter, jiggles it round a bit and gets his son to hand it in as his own work. My friend is learning something from this but his son isn't.

I wonder how much of this goes on.

David said...

Jack Ferguson (Principle Teacher of English) made similar points in the TES Scotland a fortnight ago. It takes WEEKS to get ONE piece out of the buggers; do the reading, use IT etc etc make lessons all singing all dancing and fun as well as giving them quality 'stuff' to think about. Then spend weeks in the PC suite keeping them off Beebo and MSN etc to get a pathetic one page of rubbish which is marked, given back get the so called 'final' folio piece which has added a few lines (no more)and then wonder as the SQA give the buggers A grades (ie 1 or 2 CREDIT or 3 GENERAL when they deserve only a 5 or 6) for nowt! Blood from a stone is easier and more useful!

Anonymous said...

Alanorei, there is a late deadline after which coursework is not accepted but that is for the finished piece. In most schools, children are simply not allowed to fail. An important life lesson is deliberately withheld from them because it makes the school results look bad.

My son learnt the hard way, narrowly missing a first in his degree by persistently losing marks for handing in work a few days late. I'd rather he'd learnt the lesson at school.

Anonymous said...

I used to be a secondary science teacher at a Grammar School. I was told what grades each child had to get in their course work. I had to mark and remark it until it was of the required standard. Standing over a child and prompting them what to write was accepted and not considered cheating. If children didn’t make the grade it was my fault and not at all due to their bone idleness.

Anonymous said...

OK I am not a teacher so there may well be a reason why you can't simply mark it or grade it and hand it back to the student and tell them that's what it is graded at and if they are happy with that grade then they don't need to do anything else, if however they want a better grade they need to do more work on it.

Why wouldn't that work???

Anonymous said...

Because as the previous anonymous said, you are basically told how many kids are to get A*-C grades and it's your fault, affects your performance management, used to and indeed still may affect your pay. It IS cheating, and of the worst kind. I expect pushy parents to cheat. I am even mildly encouraged when a kid cheats because at least it shows willing, but cynically sitting back and letting someone else do it for you at their own peril was the last straw in a veritable haystack for me.

alanorei said...

Thanks Lily

It is like the case of the mistake that costs maybe £10 to rectify at the design stage but £100,000 or more at the equipment installation stage.

As you indicate, it is a great pity that schools don't take this lesson on board.

alanorei said...

"you are basically told how many kids are to get A*-C grades and it's your fault, affects your performance management"

This kind of problem exists in HE -we once had a HOD who wanted arbitrarily to double marks* on a particular exam paper because they were unusually low.

*Astoundingly, he said this in front of the external examiner.

This was resisted but only because a few members of staff were prepared to stand their ground.

But it is difficult if you are singled out because you have standards and your colleagues prefer to keep their heads down.

Fortunately, we had a good branch of UCU (University and Colleges Union) at our establishment which was adept at resisting bullying and harassment of members by managers. This is what it took, sadly, until a more enlightened Vice Chancellor came on the scene - as in the case of a supportive head, if you happen to be blessed with one.

Anonymous said...

I remember naively telling my Head of Department that it was crazy to keep handing the coursework back to the kids so they could do it again.

He replied that he thought it was madness too, but we would be doing it because all the other schools did so it would be unfair on our pupils not to.

It really annoys me that we don't have a group that stands up for us on issues like this.

Anonymous said...

That is such a good post! I'm German and we don't have such a concept as coursework (in the sense that we get *so* much help from our teachers!!!) and when I worked at a British school I was so shocked to see that this ever so important and big coursework that everyone seemed so afraid of or at least have respect for... was so easy! I think the only kids who didn't get good grades were the ones who were to lazy to actually write something half-decent.
Anyway... good blog! I only discovered it recently but will keep reading now!

Anonymous said...

The same can be said of exam retakes.

I was one of the first year of the new AS/A level students and passed all my exams on the first attempt and did no resits. My final grades were an A and 3 Bs, results I was please with and that were the result my turning up to every lecture, taking notes, learning and revision, often at the expense of social activities.

A friend of mine was in both my Physics and Maths classes and more or less failed every exam he took first time round because he didn't turn up to every lecture, take notes, learn from notes he was given or revise. Not to worry though, he was able to resit some modules 4 or 5 times, even his final exams because he repeated upper sixth, and ended up with the same results as me.

I'm not particularly bitter about this personally, on the otherhand, I am annoyed that my dedication, motivation and sacrifices meant nothing in the long run simply because anyone could bump up their grade by resitting exams again and again. I presume there is a good reason for allowing resits but the system is surely abused by half-assed attempts to gain qualifications simply through wiping out poor marks and having another go.

Anonymous said...

The whole system is corrupt and wrong.
You simply cannot trust a single educational statistic from any school (primary or secondary) in the country; OFSTED reports are not worth the paper they're written on (ever heard of Potemkin Village?).
I was exams officer at my last school, the rules on coursework are the same: you teach the information required by the pupils, explain and set the coursework task(s), send them off to do it, whatever comes back is it - no redrafts, no diagnostic marking, no helpful hints, end of story.
Every school in the country cheats and the exam' boards know it.
We are under a Stalinist-five-year-plan regime where, just like in Stalin's Russia, the first person to say "Hang on a minute, these figures are ludicrous, unrealistic and, by the way, everybody's faking them" finds themselves on the first (metaphoric) cattle truck to Siberia.
Another image that springs to mind is that of the old (accurate) fairy story, "The Emperor's New Clothes".

Anonymous said...

But here we all are again, preaching to the converted. Not that taking it anywhere else gets you listened too: the parents, the kids, the HTs, the exam boards, the government are all delighted with the fabulous results. Is it we who are out of step?

Anonymous said...

another annoying thing about coursework in my experience is that the teacher has to evidence that they have in fact make it clear to the student what needs to be done and by when and that opportunities have been made to support them, parents informed etc, targets set etc.. One of my student's parents rang up on finding out that their child hadn't passed my course to complain that I didn't provide enough support. Having documented everything (thankfully) the said parent didn't have a leg to stand on. God help me if I hadn't been warned to keep records though cos the head wasn't that supportive until he couldn't argue with my evidence.

Anonymous said...

Back in the dark ages when I was at school coursework was beginning to be introduced when we took our CSE O levels - and yes it was designed to help the girls! At that time girls were behind boys academically and coursework offered them the opportunity to do well on an extended piece of work. We loved it!!
Now, I'm a teacher and I hate it! At least in other subjects the work has to be hand-written or the end product word processed but try teaching ICT coursework. Nothing more than an opportunity to play games, cruise web sites, download music, check out the latest fashion and in Y11 the girls get to swoon over their prom dresses! The current course we teach relies on pupils accessing a website which delivers the requirements and they are expected to 'use ICT to solve problems'. This only works if A)they can be bothered to turn up for lessons; B)can be bothered to read for themselves; C) can actually read (2 boys in my current Y10 class can't); D)have actually retained any of the teaching they had in years 7-9. The whole thing is a shambles and bears no relation to how ICT is used in the 'real' world.

alanorei said...

"God help me if I hadn't been warned to keep records though cos the head wasn't that supportive until he couldn't argue with my evidence."


Again, it helps to have a supportive union with an active local branch and (an) astute regional official(s).

I would guess this is much more difficult to establish in schools than in HE but it seems that individual teachers need organised backing from their own professional kith and kin to counter the basic 'inter-personal' problems of disruptive pupils, weak headmasters and unsupportive parents.

alanorei said...

"The whole thing is a shambles and bears no relation to how ICT is used in the 'real' world."

Maybe a case could be made to drop ICT completely from the curriculum, or defer it until 6th Form/Year 12? If pupils are literate, numerate and not 'behaviourally challenged,' most ICT skills can be acquired fairly easily*, I suggest, certainly to the level that most school-leavers are ever likely to need to use them.

*The reverse is not true of course, which appears to be the source of all the trouble.

After all, once you can surf the net, download stuff, send emails and use the SKY or Cable remote, what else is necessary? For those using applications like WORD, EXCEL, POWERPOINT etc. either for employment or further study, a few weeks' tuition at the start of 6th Form/Year 12 should be enough insofar as you should by then be dealing with brighter and (in class) more committed individuals (who might even merit the designation 'students.')

One of my old university mentors (a time-served chemistry demonstrator) reckoned that in education (even at HE level) there were FOUR 'R's.'


You'll appreciate that this was out in Australia in the 1960s. Hence the plain-spokenness.

But Mr Gordon, as he was, was simply a colonial version of FC's Mr Blunt.

A new influx of Mr Blunts into the current education scene, at all levels, would be worth any amount of ICT kit for not-so-well motivated sub-Year 12s.

Anonymous said...

When we first started coursework, we did it properly - no help whatsoever, finish and hand in for the deadline.

We found that our brighest A* candidates scored less than the mean score of the other schools in out board.

Choice: Carry on doing it properly and bring our kids down
Join the rest of the schools and re-do until a high standard.

What would you have done?
What would you want for your own children?

alanorei said...

"Carry on doing it properly and bring our kids down
or Join the rest of the schools and re-do until a high standard."

Old saying, circa 1930s:

"It is never right to do wrong in order to get a chance to do right" Dr. Bob Jones Sr., Founder of Bob Jones University, Greenville, S.C.

Dr. Bob once said this:

"During the depression a few years ago when the highways of America were crowded with high school graduates and college graduates out of work, we made several surveys and found that all the graduates of Bob Jones University...had positions and were doing well. Since that time we have kept a rather careful check on our alumni and I have never known of one of them who couldn't manage somehow or other to get some kind of position.

"People have asked my son, Bob Jr., the president of the University, and me, the founder, if this is because we teach our students how to make a living; and we always say, "No, we try to teach them how to live; and if they learn how to live, they do not seem to have any trouble making a living.""

Just the other day, the local paper ran a story on one of our graduates from this year, a local lass who achieved a 1st Class Honours degree and now has a position at a leading-edge process design company that handles demanding projects nationwide. The company is thriving - in a day when British engineering is often forced to the wall, so to speak.

You can follow this link (I hope it continues to work):

I believe that this particular young lady graduated from an environment where things like coursework (of which the course contains a considerable amount - see earlier post) are done "properly" and students benefit if they are prepared to 'hang in there.' They are never "brought down" in the wider world.

(She and all her cohort, without exception, found the coursework demanding and they certainly did not get straight A's, especially w.r.t to lab reports marked by me.)

(Another of our graduates who went via the sub-degree to the degree route was sent by her company to work for Westinghouse in the US. She also 'suffered' under our coursework regime but she too was not "brought down.")

Having become reasonably well acquainted with Helen over the last 2-3 years, I think she also came from a school (maybe like FC's St John's) where things were done "properly."

To those teachers who were responsible for Helen's schooling and all others like them, I would also urge 'hang in there.'

It does pay dividends down the line, as Dr. Bob rightly pointed out.

P.S. I am not quite sure how Nora's physical attributes relate to this thread but I guess it does provide some light relief :-)

Anonymous said...

I'm old school strict style with coursework. "What do you mean we can't write it out again?" wail my classes. "Mr Y's class can have another go."

Result: SMT telling me to run lunchtime sessions (my own time ffs!) for all those with D grades in coursework to "get them to a C".

Consequence: lost lunchtimes for me, extra marking, time wasted chasing errant children...

Next move: get me out of here while we have this pathetic time-wasting system.

Anonymous said...

An NQT Science teacher at my son's school naively expected to collect in the Science coursework once. Loads of parents complained that x, y and z's groups got theirs back for improvement so his should too. He was made to hand them back.

My son said at the time "If I'd known we weren't going to get them back I'd have done it properly."

Anonymous said...

I have to respond to the other anon ICT teacher, as I am one too. I am teaching the Aida to level 1 students and on expressing my concerns over their ability to access the website, find all the info they need and then complete the coursework, I have been told we can give them templates for everything, which they just fill in, and for the spreadsheet part of the project I can provide them with the data and some graphs and they just produce the report or presentation whatever it is this time around. It feels like I am doing it for them practically or certainly i am doing the thinking bit.

Anonymous said...

...which is fine for kids who can't think. But for those who can, and those who could but won't, it's a complete disaster.

Anonymous said...

In response to anon ICT teacher and AiDA coursework. I now refuse to make templates, gap-fills, crib-sheets, worksheets or any other rubbish for my pupils. I have spent years doing this and quite frankly I'm sick of doing the work for them. I don't need a GCSE in anything and if they can't be bothered then I refuse to give up my free time to this nonsense.

Trouble is, I know that this time next year when my Y11s are on course to fail I'll be asked to come in on 3 consecutive Saturdays to help them with their coursework because the school has targets to meet!!Aaaaargh!!!

Anonymous said...

My wife, she teaches, told me of the DT teacher who knew that an item of coursework submitted by one of his pupils had been completed by his father a carpenter. I can only imagine that this pupil is destined for great things.

Anonymous said...

on the other hand....
... Doing coursewok this way allows the students to actually see what a piece of work SHOULD look like when it's FINISHED.

The rest of the time they hand in a piece of work which is marked, and they never get to actually complete it.

At work I rework presentations/documents until they are correct and this is an entirely useful and appropriate skill.

Jono said...

Coursework is a joke in schools. Higher Education institutes live and die by the rigour of their degree programmes. If their assessment criteria fails to produce high-calibre graduates, then their reputation suffers as a result. Industry and academia turn their backs. Grants dry up. The institution suffers. It is in their interests to make coursework hard, so they do!

Schools on the other hand aren't troubled by such things. All that matters is keeping the figures up. Result: National Curriculum Coursework (GCSE and A-Level) is a piss-easy lark that you can only really fail if you don't submit anything at all!