Using tutors for coursework is just another form of cheating
LAST YEAR, I had to sit the new English and maths GCSEs and I’ll be frank: the experience was hard. There were no past papers, no grade boundaries and little guidance from teachers, who told me and my fellow pupils they “didn’t have the foggiest”. But I was still happy to sit the new exams. There is no coursework element in the new structure and that’s a step towards education equality.
Theoretically, controlled assessments are a great idea. They offer students who don’t perform well under exam conditions the chance to show what they can do in a long essay. However, in reality, coursework became a virtual byword for cheating.
When the government introduced the new system, it put an end to years of middle-class kids paying tutors to write their assessments for them.
When I was in year 10 of my mainstream comprehensive, a teacher handed out what she described as an “exemplary” essay. A couple of paragraphs in, it became obvious it had not been penned by the 14-year-old girl whose name was on the front sheet. Teenagers do not generally use words like “quixotic”.
I eyed the teacher warily and asked her if she thought the pupil had maybe had some help. The response was a weak smile and a murmuring that she’s “a very bright girl.”
“Yeah, she is clever, but her tutor’s even cleverer,” a classmate smirked.
My friend Saul told me the practice was widespread among his contemporaries with up to a third of his year having used tutors to write coursework for their history and drama GCSEs. In modern foreign languages, he reckons the figure was much higher, around threequarters. This was more or less in line with what I heard from teens revelling in post-GCSE euphoria last summer. Around half of two dozen people I spoke to said they had used tutors to help them write their coursework.
And they didn’t all realise they had necessarily done anything wrong. Everyone knew getting a tutor to produce an entire essay was a no-no, but some thought tutors making suggestions, marking and even writing chunks of coursework was more or less kosher. When I put this to teachers at my school, they said absolutely not.
Saul thinks staff are between a rock and hard place. “What can they actually do? They almost certainly won’t have any hard evidence of what they suspect has taken place, and they can hardly make examples of pupils by kicking them off the course. They’d have hardly any students left!”
Meanwhile, Talia — whose parents, like many others, couldn’t afford a tutor — thinks cheating created a social divide. “I worked so hard for my GCSEs and I ended up doing quite well. But, on results day, I saw all these kids that, on paper, had done as well or better than me. It made me so angry because those grades were not their real achievements.”
My friend Sophie was startlingly straight. “My tutor wrote out my French coursework for me, so I could read it out in my oral exam. I was predicted a D but thanks to her I ended up getting an A.”
Around half said they had used tutors to help them’
First names in this article have been changed