Professor Jean Underwood of Nottingham Trent University
says it is up to teachers and parents to show that plagiarism is
The government has asked Professor Underwood to provide technical advice on how to detect internet cheating.
It has commissioned a review of GCSE coursework in each subject.
The move comes after report by the Qualifications and
Curriculum Authority said downloading essays from the internet "could
not be controlled".
Professor Underwood, an expert in the impact of new
technologies on teaching and learning, said less repetitive and more
creative questioning would reduce the scope for cheating.
She said the parameters of her study were still to be
defined, but she wanted to help find solutions "so that everyone is
reassured that coursework is valid, relevant and secure".
Rules should be made clearer, Professor Underwood said.
"We all reject websites which sell essays, but where
does that leave us when there are so many help books to get pupils
through their GCSEs? Where is the line?"
And parents need to understand that by doing work for
their children, or telling them what to include, they are not allowing
them to learn effective research - an important skill for later life.
"If a parent helps their child to carry out an efficient
internet search, I personally do not see anything wrong in that," she
"But downloading five papers from the internet would be a borderline crossed."
She said the government has recognised there is concern and will put down guidelines around February next year.
But it was "all our jobs to collectively show that cheating should not happen".
Teachers have voiced concerns that there are
inconsistent guidelines across exam boards regarding how much guidance
teachers should give to pupils.
They are also concerned that providing templates and
checklists for work leads to "cloned essays" which are difficult to
"Templates are worrying, if they lead to the pupil not understanding the material," Professor Underwood said.
The NASUWT teachers' union said it was important to keep the issue of plagiarism in proportion.
But it welcomed the idea of clearer guidelines, but said
policing every line of work for plagiarism would "place an impossible
burden upon teachers".
Coursework is marked internally within schools, while
exam boards call in samples of the work for external checks, known as
At GCSE level, it varies from 20% of the overall qualification in double science, to 60% in art and design.
At A-level it can be from nothing to 30%, or 60% in the case of art and design.
Education Secretary Ruth Kelly said coursework should only be used where it is the most appropriate assessment method.
The QCA's report found coursework was a valuable tool to
stimulate pupils' own learning, but that the value placed on it by
teachers varied between subjects.
Professor Underwood said technology could help ameliorate the problem but was "no quick fix".
She said software already existed to help schools ascertain whether work was the pupil's own.
"It can even be as simple as typing a phrase into Google."
"If a phrase has been plagiarised, sites will bring it up."
"Software is already out there that schools can use, from the Joint Information Systems Committee."
Exam board Edexcel and the Joint Council for
Qualifications said they were working with the Plagiarism Advisory
Service with a view to rolling out plagiarism detection software.
A JCQ spokesperson said it would reduce the potential to use or re-use work produced by other people.
Professor Underwood said some software could check as
well as mark work. But she said some clever students would find ways
round such programmes.
"One method used is to translate phrases in papers into
a different language and then back into English with a translation
tool," she said.
She said that tackling firms providing essays for sale
or download would not guarantee children could not access essays, as
hackers could still make them available for sale.
"We need to think smart on an academic and technological level," she said
"The internet is a wonderful thing with the power to change lives - but there will always be a downside."
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