GCSE compsci kids' work may not count after solutions leaked online

Brit watchdog considers changing how course will be graded

The new compsci GCSE has been plunged into chaos after solutions to coursework tasks were found leaked online.

Now the UK Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (Ofqual) is considering changing how this year's course will be graded.

Schools first began teaching the new computer science GCSEs in September 2016 and the first students will sit their exams in May. They count as a "science" of the English baccalaureate, on the same status as biology, chemistry or physics GCSEs.

The 20-hour non-examination assessments (NEA), which began September 1 and must end by March 31, count for 20 per cent of final 9-1 grades. Students must "design, write, test and refine programs, using one or more high-level programming language with a textual program definition, either to a specification or to solve a problem".

Fewer than half GCSE computing students got a B or higher this year


But although exam boards dictate that the task be confidential, Ofqual said in a report (PDF) that it has discovered "extracts from, and complete, tasks have appeared on on-line forums and collaborative programming sites".

Ofqual said some posts were likely from students, while others may even have been from teachers asking how to prepare students.

The report notes that using the internet clearly isn't a new idea and "the exam boards have taken additional steps to mitigate some of the risks" but just "in 2017, all the exam boards investigated a number of cases of malpractice in the subject".

In a statement, Ofqual said: "The apparent extent of malpractice in this qualification leads us to believe that it is no longer possible for exam boards to ensure that grades awarded next summer will fairly reflect the ability of all students unless changes are made to the assessment arrangements."

In addition, earlier this month The Royal Society published a report (PDF) on computing education detailing that the non-exam assessment rules were "onerous" for teachers.

Simon Peyton-Jones, chair of the Computing at School Board (part of BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT), told The Register that teachers "were very isolated" by not being able to talk to others about the tasks and were put in the difficult position of balancing helping their students succeed and meeting exam rules. They also had to do a lot of work securing the examination environment.

In the short term, Ofqual is proposing to make students still finish the assessment to meet curriculum requirements but not let it count toward 9-1 grades. It is soliciting a public consultation on the matter.


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Miles Berry, subject leader for Computing Education at the University of Roehampton, told The Register: "The NEA for GCSE Computer Science is unsatisfactory: the scope of the specimen tasks seemed rather unimaginative, and both the marking rubric and the restrictions in place provide a far from authentic experience of software development.

"Alternatives, such as set and endorsed practical programming tasks throughout the GCSE course similar to those in the other sciences, onscreen programming tests, or open ended project work such as we see at A-Level, would be well worth exploring as a way to encourage a more motivating approach to practical programming in upper secondary education."

Peyton-Jones said "it's not obvious what to do in the short term" and that "examinations are supposed to ask about capabilities of an individual student" but in the long term, he thinks a more collaborative model, like in science, would be "quite attractive".

The consultation runs until December 22 and results will be announced January 8. ®

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