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As English Language Coursework Marks

If you put teachers in charge of marking (part of) their student’s examination work and at the same time, tell them that their livelihoods depend upon their getting as many high grades as possible they may be tempted to … err … cheat. Many would. 

The whole concept of ‘coursework’ puts teachers in an impossible lose-lose position. It’s like allowing car owners to carry out their own MOT tests and threatening to confiscate their cars if they don’t pass.

So I’m not in the least surprised to hear about Harris Academy Beckenham. It is being investigated by Ofqual, the exams regulator, because 81 per cent of the 78 students who sat GCSE English Language at foundation tier level are said to have passed one of the teacher-assessed parts of the exam with grades A* to C. And 45 per cent got the similar grades in the other teacher assessed bit. Yet, overall, once the externally assessed exams were factored in only four per cent - yes that equates to about three students – reportedly got grades A*-C. 

Describing this apparent cavernous gap as a ‘discrepancy’ is something of an understatement. 

So why don’t we hear about this sort of thing more often? Because it clearly is not in the interests of teachers and schools to draw attention to it. We know about Harris Academy Beckenham only because an unnamed teacher “who has been close to the school” has reported these claims to Ofqual and gone to the press with his story. Draw your own conclusions about his current relationship with the school … which isstrenuously denying that anything irregular has gone on.

In a way the school is right. Nothing irregular has gone on because this kind of thing happens continually and ubiquitously, as Warwick Mansell proved in his impeccably researched book Education by Numbers: The Tyranny of Testing (2007). 

Research by former Ofsted Inspector Birendra Singh, published last month, demonstrated clearly that science teachers are being put under pressure to inflate – or even invent – GCSE coursework marks as a way of massaging their schools’ rankings.

One head of department I knew told staff bluntly to inflate the A level English course work as much as possible to offset the weaker students’ expected poor performance in the written papers.

Teachers were obliged to spend hours helping each student with draft after draft and then at the end of the process (by which time they knew everybody’s work almost by heart and had effectively written chunks of it) to put a high mark on it, whether it deserved it or not. Often, staff were instructed to make it 100 per cent. “If the student has, with your help, fulfilled all the criteria, then it’s full marks” he asserted.

But teachers have bills to pay. There was no way they could have objected openly at the time. No teacher can afford to jeopardise his or her job or the status of the school which employs him or her by downgrading students – much as they may deserve it – given that schools and teachers are judged by “results”. And that means exam passes.

The powers-that-be are aware of all this of course. And there is much less emphasis on coursework – to the fury of many teachers who want their students to pass by fair means or foul - than there used to be. Most of it now has to be written in school under ‘controlled conditions’ so at least it can’t be ghosted by parents or pinched from the internet, but that doesn’t do anything to stop anxious teachers from larding it with undeserved marks.

From next year oral work – the easiest thing of all to mark up generously because there is no evidence afterwards – will be excluded from the final GCSE English grade and that will help.

At least it will in that grades might be a more accurate indication of what candidates actually know, understand and can do.

On the other hand the exam should be a full top at the end of a course and not the concern which drives every single minute of every lesson for two years.  Coursework, in the sense of what the student learns and does in class and elsewhere week after week for two years, is about learning and development – and that’s what really matters.

The best coursework leads to the exam but is not part of it. All examination work should be marked objectively by impartial people who do not know the candidates. To do otherwise is to sell our young people short by issuing them with phoney qualifications.

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  • I am struggling with this SO much....

    I was wondering if I could ask someone a HUGE favour. If there are any people who have already done the coursework would they be able to tell me exactly what I need to write about, or even better send theirs to me so that I can see some examples?? It's just that I literally have no information as to what we have to include, not even what sections we need. The deadline is so soon... and I don't even know where to start.

    I'm looking at the speech and communication of two children. How am I supposed to analyse that? Am I literally supposed to write what they can say? And how they communicate what they want? Because that's simple... do I need to include any theory? Not that I have any idea what theory I would include....

    Even if anyone could point me in the direction of any websites that may help me, especially if there are websites with example courseworks. We haven't seen any examples at all, and seeing coursework that others have done always helps me.

    I know it may be a bit cheeky to ask this, but I'm getting desperate!

  • I would strongly suggest you speak to your tutor(s) if possible because there is no way you can guess at this coursework and if you can it will have to be a VERY good blag.

    Seeing other people's finished copies can often be very helpful but I have a feeling it won't really help in this case because the A2 English Language coursework really is an individual investigation so no two investigations will be consistent or relevant. Even looking at something like style of writing or layout on someone else's work won't help because it has to be in your style.

    You sound as though you have chosen a linguistic area to study (the language of two children) but you need to have detailed ideas of what you are going to study about the language of children: is it the way they interact with each other? Is it the fluidity of their speech? What is it exactly?

    You also need to include specific details of what you hope to achieve, what you expect to find and how you are going to study them/what methods you are going to use. So yes you do need to include your theory and primarily a hypothesis * and no, no one can tell you exactly what you need to write about because really you are the only person who will know. Only you can answer these questions and if you don't know the answers then looking at finished pieces still might not help. Again I would recommend talking to a teacher or a trusted tutor who might be able to help explain things better.

    * Your entire coursework revolves around your hypothesis

    I hope this has given you some idea of what the coursework might require. I know it is very difficult and stressful, especially if you don't know what to do so if you need more details please feel free to message me.

    Best of luck!

  • Hi,

    We were told that we had to include:

    - Introduction-
    -say why you were interested in this topic area
    - how you gathered your data
    - Any limitations of your study (e.g. only two children- not representative, transcripts not reliable, etc)
    - Any background research. Look at studies about children's speech. David Crystal's book may be useful, else you could google it and see what you come up with. Ideally make this specific to WHAT you are investigating. You should try to refer to these studies through your investigation as you analyse your data.
    - How do you intend you analyse your data? We split our work into four sub-questions. E.G. One on gramma, lexis, etc. An example may be: how does the lexis of these two children differ?-if you were looking into the differences? My study was on the gender differences in two children's language, which was very interesting. I really enjoyed it- I hope you can too. :-)

    -Do each sub question seperately. Analyse it how you like. Use graphs, tables, even mind maps. Try to answer the question really. Make comparisons, explore similarities... perhaps suggests reasons for these (using your research if you can). This is the main body of your study.

    - Conclusion.
    -What did you find out?
    -Were there any problems/ difficultues and how did you overcome these?

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