Preventing plagiarism


With universities clamping down on plagiarism – accidental or malicious – it is vital that secondary schools educate their students so that future problems are avoided. We look at how and offer SecEd readers a free trial and discount on software to help.

The digital age has provided many advantages for schools – making education a more interactive and fun experience. However, a survey in 2012 by the awarding body Edexcel has found that some students in secondary schools are abusing the internet by plagiarising content, while others are using it without analysing the data for themselves.

Copying someone else’s work is becoming a growing problem among secondary school students. In 2012, Edexcel found that when it ran its papers through the Turnitin plagiarism detection service there were 122 cases of plagiarism, including 42 at Diploma level and 26 at GCSE.

Since more than 98 per cent of UK universities use Turnitin, copying and issues surrounding plagiarism are increasingly areas which need to be addressed at secondary level. Will Murray, Turnitin’s senior vice president product management and international, said: “The increased availability of online materials means that plagiarism is as much an issue in schools as it is in further and higher education.”

What exactly is plagiarism?

The issue of plagiarism or copying is not just something that only university-level students need to worry about. With coursework making up a large part of the curriculum at other levels, together with the increasing availability of digital resources, issues are coming to light earlier on in the educational system.

Of course to tackle the issue, both teachers and students have to understand exactly what the problem is. Plagiarism is often classed as copying or using someone else’s work as your own, but this is not a black and white definition. The guidance and resources website explains how collusion, using work from a translated source, or even using images from the web can result in wider problems.

Teachers are therefore key to ensuring that students are fully prepared and equipped. Instilling good research and writing techniques at secondary level will not only enhance educational standards, but will also lead to more rounded students, whether they go on to university or not.

But where to start? And what is the best way for teachers to incorporate this into their already heavy workload? Here follows some key areas within which teachers can best provide guidance to their students, and also some signs to look out for when spotting plagiarism.

Why do students commit plagiarism?

There are many reasons why a student might be tempted to plagiarise or to pass off information as their own. Edexcel says that poor time-management is often a major reason in cases of plagiarism. It states: “Once plagiarism has been detected, we ask both the candidate and the supervising teacher to provide a statement. In general, we find that the majority of candidates are aware that it is malpractice but most of them rush through their coursework or assignment at the last minute in the vain hope that it won’t be detected.”

However, in most cases, the student is actually unaware that they are doing wrong. Edexcel’s study found that the most common reasons for plagiarism were poor referencing, as well as the general growth in internet usage.

It found that a notable problem was the use of too many internet quotations and the number of unattributed passages from the internet.

Tackling plagiarism

Referencing is a key skill. For work at all levels, the ability to reference properly is not only essential in itself, but it helps students to improve their reading and writing skills as a whole.

Most university work is heavily based on the student’s own personal research, and this makes referencing an essential research skill that students need to learn.

Edexcel also marks this as a major area of concern given the number of times it is picked up as a problem. More than half of their survey respondents also highlighted incorrect referencing as a major issue.

Meanwhile, constantly providing the same type of assessments can lead to complacency – essays are easier to copy and there is minimal thinking involved when doing so.

However, if the student is encouraged to “explain” or “explore”, rather than “describe”, they can be encouraged to improve their critical-thinking and evaluation skills, which are the backbone of their whole educational experience.

Students love technology so why not teach them using what they know best? Blogs can be used to generate debate about plagiarism issues or referencing. Technology can be a great enabler for reaching out to students who may not be responsive to the traditional methods of learning.

It is also worth emphasising the penalties for plagiarism. Edexcel, for example, says that for students found guilty it can result in the loss of marks gained for a section, disqualification from the unit, or even loss of a university place offer. If the university place is not lost completely, it can delay the student from achieving their final results for two years.

Identifying plagiarism

It is important that secondary teachers can identify plagiarism when they see it, in order to help nip any problems in the bud.

The very appearance of a student’s work can reveal many things. Changes in writing style can be the best indicator. Every student has their own way of writing and expressing themselves which is developed over time and the teacher has a strong advantage in sensing whether any changes have occurred. 

Similarly, the use of obscure sources or those which may not be entirely relevant to the student’s country of study may be revealing factors. Often, incidences of the latter, together with non-local spelling or nuances, can indicate that information has been gathered from online sources.


A good level of literacy and sound writing skills are what any good teacher wishes to instil in their students and there is a wealth of information online at which teachers can access.

Universities are getting tougher on those who try to cheat and plagiarism detection tools such as Turnitin are used by almost all UK universities.

The leap from GCSE to A level and then to degree level is challenging enough, so educating your students about plagiarism and its consequences may be the best kind of preparation you can give them.

Further information, formerly the Plagiarism Advisory Service, was formed in the UK in 2002 against growing concerns about plagiarism and the authenticity of student work. It provides resources, training and guidance to universities, colleges and schools worldwide. Visit 

Special Offer – Turnitin Trial & Discount

SecEd readers are being offered a free trial and also the option of a 20 per cent discount on licences for Turnitin software. One of the most widely distributed educational applications in the world, Turnitin is used by more than 10,000 institutions in 126 countries to manage the submission, tracking and evaluation of student papers online.

By running all student submissions through the Turnitin database, instructors can check students’ work for originality, mark and comment on work online, and provide constructive feedback. 

Turnitin’s ultimate benefit can therefore be to educate students about the issues behind plagiarism and improve their writing skills, enabling them to better understand the value of originality and academic integrity.

For more information, visit and for a free access code to start using Turnitin, email Quote SecEd2013 to receive a 20 per cent discount for licences starting from September 2013.


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