In discussions around one of the most recent syllabus reviews for A-levels there were signals that the government was hostile to the inclusion of coursework and wanted to abolish independent research projects (IRPs). Why? There were two key reasons. First, IRPs are considered a ‘soft’ unit, requiring less input from the student and less work from the teacher than any other complete module. Incidentally, teachers would laugh at that assumption since 30 students writing 30 different topics is quite a workload.
Second, since coursework and IRPs are completed in the student’s own time and usually outside the school environment, it could be easy to cheat, copy someone else’s work or get extensive co-operation from family, friends and anyone who might offer guidance. There was a concern that students from more affluent and formally educated homes, where one or more parents were themselves graduates and may have had a supply of books in the home, would gain an unfair advantage over those from less formally educated homes. In other words, the ‘independence’ of the study was considered elitist. This is clearly an important objection as it is crucial that markers can be confident a student’s work is their own. But ever-improving software can detect plagiarism – theft of someone else’s writing or ideas – and the degree of help that could in most cases be offered by parents or friends was often exaggerated.
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