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

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 …

  1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

    coursework, meet stack exchange, stack exchange meet coursework

    This was somewhat inevitable...

  2. TheSkunkyMonk

    GCSE is a joke if its still anything like it was when I did it, we had to make a Zeotrope, write a letter in word and produce a presentation to explain how we would design a website no actual html or php just an explanation as to how we would lay it out, in English words not code, no image editing no nothing it was the biggest sham I had ever seen. Their only defense was we were the first year to take it.

    1. Rich 11 Silver badge

      Just out of curiosity...

      ...what grade did you get? Was it better than your GCSE English grade?

    2. MartinB105

      That sounds more like IT than Computer Science.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      It is much harder than that now, ICT has them actually developing the (noddy) website, for CS it has them doing development, usually in Python but the language choice is down to what the CS teacher is able to teach.

      However what usually happens is the majority of kids copy off the kid who can actually code. I made my son deliberately wait till the others chose the more obvious one of three available tasks then get him to pick the least popular option (developing a basic compression algorithm) so they couldn't copy him. Worked a treat.

  3. My-Handle

    On one hand it is definitely bad to cheat at exams or assessments.

    But.

    I am a software developer and I *live* on the internet. I would say that probably the single most important skill for a software developer is being able to investigate a problem, look at documentation, previous examples or somewhat similar code and being able to learn from it and construct a working solution to the problem. Put me on the spot and ask me what the correct syntax is for a given operation in a random language and you'll be lucky to get a sensible response. Either I can bring it to mind, or I'll rely on intellisense backed up by Stack Overflow / MSDN et cetera. The key is knowing how to find the answer and use it.

    I once failed an interview because I didn't know, on paper, the various methods in StringBuilder. They didn't appreciate the answer "I'd Google it".

    If I were to recommend anything to the exam board, it would be to set a problem that didn't have a simple pre-built solution. Like, asking a student to build a set of objects to do certain tasks in a coursework-style timescale, then have them demonstrate how these objects can be used in a short assessment period. If the student copied the code, then it's highly likely they won't have a clue how to use it. If they did copy it and they *do* know how to use it, then congrats! That's how real software development works. Extra marks.

    1. Valeyard

      The scripting tasks I set for my interviewees go further than that, I set something I know they cant curently do but I assess how good their google-fu is. Since let's face it that's a large part of the job, and it means that training and bedding in won't involve me having to hover over them

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      On one hand it is definitely bad to cheat at exams or assessments.

      I beg to differ. I got my real start in IT that way. I was a first year Biology undergraduate and we were set the task of writing a BASIC program to do some statistical analysis. I could probably have written it in a couple of hours but instead I spent several days learning to bypass security on the PrimeOS mini-computer to pilfer the answer from the lecturer's home directory and the refactoring the code so that it wasn't traceable to the original (and faster as well).

      By the end of the semester, I could hold a sensible conversation with the SysOps and the rest is history. If I had just tried to pass the test (instead of cheating) I would probably be stuck in a hospital basement to this day testing stool samples.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        "I was a first year Biology undergraduate and we were set the task of writing a BASIC program to do some statistical analysis."

        You were denied the pleasure of watching mechanical calculators in operation doing the same thing. A Marchant calculator performing division could actually walk along the bench. I keep hoping to find one in an antique shop.

      2. Pat Harkin

        "I would probably be stuck in a hospital basement to this day testing stool samples."

        You say that like it's a bad thing...

    3. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      I think under the GCSE IT syllabus being able to go on the internet and find something gets you an A*

    4. Solarflare

      I once failed an interview because I didn't know, on paper, the various methods in StringBuilder. They didn't appreciate the answer "I'd Google it".

      Did you take that as your cue to actually learn your craft, or are you a 'copy and paste from Stack Overflow/online tutorial' guy through and through?

      1. My-Handle

        I was largely a VBA / SQL developer at the time, so it wasn't something I'd encountered before. Even now, as a VB .Net developer, I know what the point of StringBuilder is but could only name the .Append() and .AppendLine() functions off the top of my head.

        The point of my post, as I believe you may have missed, wasn't just to "copy and paste" but to understand as well. You're a lucky man if you can find a piece of code online that does exactly what you want. whatever code you find will need changing in some way, or implementing as part of a greater bit of code. Understanding the code is essential to that.

        And incidentally, yes. I did take that as a cue. I spent a short half hour or so that evening reading up on Stringbuilder. Via Google.

      2. Lysenko

        Did you take that as your cue to actually learn your craft

        Memorising method signatures makes you a competent programmer in the same sense that memorising the reign dates of monarchs makes you a competent historian. A better question is what is what makes StringBuilder necessary in the first place?

        Useless answer: "it's faster". Useful answer: "languages that don't provide direct pointer access to character arrays need a workaround for the inevitable performance degradation. If I rewrite the problem in C like [this] then we don't need any workarounds (or method signatures of workarounds)".

        In other news, this:

        print(*['fizzbuzz' if not any([x % 3, x % 5]) else 'fizz' if x % 3 == 0 else 'buzz' if x % 5 == 0 else x for x in range(1, n)], sep='\n')

        ...is a party trick, not impressively professional programming.

        1. Anonymous Bullard

          ...is a party trick

          Oh god, I'm not inviting you to NYE.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    This was pretty obvious really. The internet has been about for a while so did they not think that the following may apply?

    Students will cheat though this is an interesting concept when it comes to coding because lets say I have an idea and want to write a program to do it and then search online for all the necessary code or API's to do it, did I write it or did I copy it?

    Students will ask for help maybe by posting part or all of their course work. Does this help mean they fail or are they being resourceful?

    Teachers trying to understand the syllabus will ask others in the field for advice again maybe posting examples for advice.

    Put simply they were fools to think they could do it this way without ambiguity with regards to course work.

    1. jmch Silver badge
      Flame

      "Students will cheat"

      The problem isn't students "cheating", the problem is grading students on a basis that is totally divorced from reality, not only in IT. In the real world, the important skills are collaborative working, ability to reason and to fit old bits known from experience (yours or someone else's through books, papers, forums etc) together in different ways to solve a new problem.

      The school system grades people on individualism and selfishness, collaboration is considered cheating. Creativity is frowned upon, even if there are many answers to a problem, the ones that are not 'by the book' are frowned upon or penalised. No surprises by the way, school systems have not basically changed in a hundred years. The major puropse of schools isn't only to educate students to a minimum standard but to drill in conformity and obedience, all the better to produce compiant worker drones.

      Certainly there are good and great teachers out there, but that is in spite of the system not because of it, and in my experience the best teachers are the one whom the system is constantly fighting against and undermining. Adding iPads instead of paper and keeping everything else the same is not modernising.

      1. Dr. Mouse Silver badge

        I studied Engineering at Uni, and a student once asked why we had to remember all the Laplace transforms for exams when, in the real world, there would be a book on the shelf to look it up.

        The professor's answer was that, by learning it for an exam, you will at least be able to remember what you are looking for "in the real world". If you don't learn it for the exam, you'll probably have forgotten what it is you need to find by the time you are out in the world.

        From this I took that the most important thing is to know what you don't know. There are several functions which I routinely have to look up the syntax for, or the exact name of. However, I know what I am looking for and can find it quickly. If you don't know what you don't know, you have to find out what you don't know before you can look for it, making the whole process much more time consuming.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Cleary a crap exam

    For a 20 hour coursework piece, they should be telling the students on September the 1st that this will be due on the 31st of March 2018 and that it is worth 20% of the mark.

    Then from October - January keep reminding the students it is going to be needed soon, that is is critical and that it is worth 15% of the mark, but do not give them a clear idea of the specification. Just a nebulous picture.

    In February they need reiterate that it is worth 50% of the mark and give them the final specification.

    In March they need to give them the revised final spec.

    On March 29th they should give the updated final spec.

    On April the 1st they should say the project was canned and they are no longer needed to attend the course.

    Finally, in June / July, they should give a final appraisal explaining how the student was poorly prepared, disorganized and lacked motivation.

    That would be a relistic exam.

    1. rmason Silver badge

      Re: Cleary a crap exam

      @AC

      You're totally correct, that would be much more realistic.

      You forgot the final stage though, one week after being given a short notice deadline change they will all be put on garden leave after being told their jobs are being off-shored.

      They will either have the option of being made redundant or transferring to the equivalent qualification in German.

    2. Dr. Mouse Silver badge

      Re: Cleary a crap exam

      Brilliant, stealing that!

  6. Tom Chiverton 1

    ".. per cent of final 9-1 grades"

    Wot ?

    1. Ben1892

      They don't do A*, A, B, C, D, E any more they do 9, 8, 7, 6, 5,4,3, 2, 1 but don't ask me which end of the scale is which in terms of performance :)

      1. Peter Ford

        1 is low, 9 is high, less than about 5 is effectively a fail. There may also be a 0 if the candidate doesn't turn up.

        This allows for scope creep - they can add in 10 or turn it up to 11 if they need to...

        Of course, the databases that have been created to store these grades likely only have single character* fields for the grade and will crash if 10 is introduced unless someone is smart enough to use hexadecimal.

        * I hit a security block when I tried to type char-openbracket-one-closebracket here - it seemed to think I was trying an SQL injection! That's really not the most efficient way of avoiding SQL injection atttacks...

  7. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    They began teaching the course in Sep last year, the assessments began in Sep this year and they have a consultation which is still running? Perhaps their scheduling's a bit out for the consultation. OTOH I suppose does have a hint of IT reality about it.

    However, if the consultation wants an idea to deal with the situation here's one. Halve the contribution to the total marks for each copy found online.

  8. Mike Shepherd
    Meh

    Isolated

    ...teachers "were very isolated" by not being able to talk to others...

    It makes you wonder how teachers managed 20, 30, 40, 50 years ago. Can they work now only by constant reference to web sites?

    1. Rich 11 Silver badge

      Re: Isolated

      When the teachers are being expected to interpret a brand-new syllabus where every tiny thing every student ever does has to be reported back to persuade the Ministry of Indoctrination and Training that the teacher is doing their job to some arbitrarily adequate level sufficient to avoid their school's funding being threatened, then, yes, teachers do need to talk to each other to figure out what the hell is required of them.

      Prior to this century, though, teachers were trusted to be responsible human beings and professionals, supervised only by their head of department and head teacher, and curiously enough most of us got a passably good education delivered by motivated, experienced people happy to drift off syllabus if they felt it would give us a better insight into the way their subject worked in reality.

      (Deep breath, Rich. Take a deep breath.)

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Isolated

        I'm not in education, but I did attend school, and comparing my schooling to that of my kids I've came to the same conclusions as you. I've also noticed how drastic my kids favourite lessons can change drastically - it's not the subject, but the teacher (I presume).

        Teachers on the whole have became "office workers". Get the box ticked, cover their arse, move on. Whether or not it's their fault or the system (or both), I don't know - I have no visibility of that.

        Of course there are some exceptions, to which I make sure they and their superior receive feedback.

    2. strum Silver badge

      Re: Isolated

      >It makes you wonder how teachers managed 20, 30, 40, 50 years ago.

      Back in the day, teachers usually had colleagues to ask. If not, their LEA could usually provide someone, or point in the right direction. If nothing else, there was probably a Min of Ed memo on the subject.

  9. Just Enough

    STILL needs pointing out

    "UK Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (Ofqual)

    *English Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (Ofqual)

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