The OCR exam board withdraws controlled assessment from Computing students, reveals Tony Parkin
In a major blow to thousands of students taking the OCR's Computing GCSE, the exam board has withdrawn the controlled assessment task for June 2015 that many of them have already completed – and in some cases have already submitted.
In a letter (right) to all teachers of "J275 GCSE Computing", OCR state that J275 GCSE Computing:Units A452 and A453 Controlled assessment are scheduled for immediate withdrawal, citing evidence of online malpractice.
In a surprise twist just after 9am this morning (Monday June 30), the notification letter was suddenly taken down from the OCR website, without any explanation. Whether this marks a shift in thinking at OCR, or merely means that the letter was posted too early online, as indicated by its curious July dateline, will no doubt emerge shortly.
The letter reads: "It has come to our attention that there are a number of websites promoting worked answers for all of OCR’s GCSE Computing live controlled assessment tasks. As a result of this all tasks for both GCSE units A452 and A453 have been withdrawn with immediate effect. We appreciate that some candidates may well have completed these tasks; however, in order to maintain the integrity of the assessment and to be fair to all candidates the existing tasks will no longer be valid for submission in June 2015."
It is usual practice for at least one of the controlled assessment tasks, that each require 20 hours of classroom time, to be carried out in Year 10, the first year of the two year GCSE course, thus the majority of the students registered for the examination will have lost 20 hours of completed work. The letter advised that candidates who had already completed one of the existing tasks, will instead have to complete alternative tasks. However the alternative tasks for both units are not yet available, and the board only promises that they 'will be uploaded on to Interchange by 15 September 15 2014 for submission in June 2015.
The board goes on to say, "We apologise for any inconvenience caused as a result of this issue and would like to remind centres that OCR cannot tolerate malpractice of this nature. It results in severe standards, comparability and malpractice issues that ultimately impact on the candidates."
As news of the letter reached the teachers involved, a storm broke online as they took to social media and web forums to discuss their reactions over the weekend. Prominent among them was Drew Buddie, well-known as @digitalmaverick on Twitter, who has started the #withdrawnCA hashtag to bring together the online discussion, and offer support from NAACE. Drew is currently Naace senior vice chair on its board of management.
Teachers on Twitter say they are 'devastated'
Most teachers tweeting said they were absolutely devastated by the news, and pointed out the impossibility of fitting that amount of allocated time into the Computing timetable for the coming year to make up for the completed but withdrawn assessments. Many have expressed concern for the impact on pupils, and also for the schools' ability to recruit later cohorts to this course when the news becomes more widespread.
One or two tweets indicated an understanding of the OCR's action, and the need for fairness and maintained standards. However they were greatly outnumbered by tweets expressing horror at the action. Christine Harvey, @TeachesCompSci, tweeted " We can't do three OCR modules in less than 1 year! Also if they release next one in mid-September it's a bit late." Several wryly observed that the same thing could equally well happen with the alternative tasks that will be posted, and some expressed surprise that the OCR had not changed the tasks each year to reduce the probability of this happening.
The storm rages on, and not only on twitter. Over at the CAS Communities opinions were similar to those expressed on Twitter. "OCR BOMBSHELL A452 & A453 VOID!" being a typical thread. Also on the community Neil Kendall says "This is a complete disaster. My students have just completed A453 and we were starting A452 in September. I started to mark them today so might as well give up on that!"
Students 'will be gutted about this'
Michelle Butler adds "This is ridiculous, my students have just completed A453 and we were going to start A452 in September before moving on to the theory. There’s no way timetable wise we can now re-do A453 and fit in A452 and the vast majority of the A451 theory in 2.5 hours a week. The worst part is we have separate log-ins for CA and log every website they go on to so I can 100% guarantee my students haven’t been on any of those websites. They will be gutted about this."
It will be interesting to see what happens when the story gets into the national media, and students, parents and the general public become aware of the issue. Given that coursework had already experienced a rough ride under the current Secretary of State, could this story deal a devastating blow to the whole use of coursework and controlled assessments at GCSE level?