Should schools promote A-level resits?

Should schools promote A-level resits?

Having watched my daughter work tirelessly the last two years on her A-levels, it was devastating to see how upset she was as she received her results and didn’t get the grades she had hoped for, or had been predicted to get. Yet at the school, who of course get wind of the results the night before, there was no one there to offer advice on a possible re-sit, and now I wonder why.

What would be the benefit of re-sitting?

  • Better opportunities. Whether we like it or not, better grades open up more opportunities in terms of university courses, if that is the direction a student wishes to take. It also looks better to an employer if the workforce is the immediate avenue. In the grand scheme of things, an extra year of study pales into insignificance in terms of time, yet can have enormous implications for future opportunities if the re-sit results in the student achieving better grades.
  • Better performance. With being already exposed to the content, another year under the belt, and a more mature brain, students are in a better position to move towards mastery of content. They will be able to think more deeply about texts and ideas and content in general, and as a result will be able to process information and explore themes and conceptualise their essays with greater sophistication. In English, all of the texts are adult texts, and the more life you have in the pocket the more likely your responses to them will be stronger.
  • Pride. It may just be me, but I remember receiving my A-level results like it was yesterday, and I always have a twinge of pain at the recollection because I too was disappointed with the outcome. People often ask me what I got (obviously with being a teacher that particular context is significantly more likely to occur), and even though I know A-levels were simply a stepping stone to my next venture, I still wish I could say I had done a little better.
  • Schools would feel better knowing they’ve improved the life of the student
  • Exam performance is potentially a reason for a gap between predicted grades and final grades, and more prescriptive attention to enhancing this performance may bridge the discrepancy.

What would be the negatives of resitting?

  • Funding. By the looks of my very limited research into it, and with the help of some kind people on Twitter, schools don’t receive funding for a student wishing to re-sit. This funding guidance doc for 2019-2020 is rather ambiguous if I’m honest, and doesn’t explicitly mention students who want to re-sit A-levels, but several heads have indicated that they receive no funding for students effectively taking year 14. These heads say that they do offer it to students if they feel it would benefit them, but it as at the school’s cost: another student in classes, more workload for the teacher having to mark work etc.  
  • Being older than the others.
  • Condensing the 2 year course into a single year. Few would re-sit both years, so there is some extra pressure in completing it in one.
  • Some may also say that the likelihood of the result improving is slim, and that students may have a false sense of their ability. I would suggest however if there is a significance discrepancy between the predicted grades and the final grades then there would be a case for re-sit. There has also been lots said about the reliability in exam marking, succinctly here by Daisy Christodoulou. Whilst this issue may still be present the next time round, there is a chance that this year’s marking was not accurate.

The psychological battle I now have in trying to convince my daughter that a re-sit may be in her best interest is very real. There simply hasn’t been any discussion at her school, and she won’t say it, but I can sense that for her there’s a sense of failure in having to re-sit. I wonder if schools were funded to cover re-sits how many more students would be presented with this option and see it as a realistic and sensible one. What do you think?

I’m Paul Moss. Follow me on Twitter @edmerger, and follow this blog for more educational and English teaching resources and discussions.

2 comments

  1. I think this is an interesting discussion – and something that appears from your thread to be much more common in the independent sector than the state. For the independent school, another year’s fees resolves the funding issues, or for the independent fee-paying A Level Colleges, who specialise in resits and focused assessment drive, it’s a relatively painless process.

    Having taught a number of resit students, I’d say there are also some other advantages and disadvantages to consider:
    1) Students who have seen the end point of a course have the tentative makings of a curriculum schema in their minds. Often, they can see the links and write more synthetic and synoptically, as a consequence of having done the whole thing and thought about it before. This works particularly strongly for arts subjects, or subjects where the progress is not “modular”.

    1b) Sometimes, essay based subjects can see large improvements. Students are less concerned about learning the content, and can spend more time thinking about how they are structuring and communicating their ideas – this can have significant shifts in exam marking as a result.

    2) Students who do the same A Levels again sometimes struggle to “switch on” because “I’ve done this before”. It can lead to false confidence, and people being a bit disaffected because they don’t feel like they “need” to be working.

    3) Some students are very ready to leave at 18 at the end of A Level. Doing another year can feel overwhelmingly restrictive: more rules, uniforms and restrictions. This can be *really* hard, particularly if there aren’t (m)any other students doing the resits. The social factor is what often pushes people towards a Foundation Year in the chosen courses – going away from home, being independent, doing the sort of work that you will do in another year’s time – without the academic shift up to full degree level work.

    NB: Most students won’t see anything like a social gap when they get to university. There are many students applying late, doing gap years, taking different routes etc. – this is a Sixth Form experience, rather than a university differential!

    4) I have seen a few students go off and do their resit year at a specialist (independent, fee paying) college. These are places which rigorously drill exam technique and practice (mock papers on content covered every two weeks), no “school like” components (form, assembly, sport, being in school unless you have a lesson). The change of environment makes some of the social awkwardness go away.

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