University of Sussex
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The A levels' resit policy and its effect on student learning in three educational institutions in England: an investigation into the practice of students resitting examinations in A levels in three educational institutions in England with a view to exploring the implications of the A levels' resit policy for student learning in sixth-form education

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posted on 2023-06-07, 16:17 authored by Eva Siu Mei Poon Scott
This thesis is a qualitative study of the implications of the resit policy of A levels for student learning in sixth-form education in England. In contrast to many other high-stakes examinations which test students only at the end of a course, A levels use a modular format where students are allowed to resit past units within the two-year sixth-form course with no limit or penalty. Since resits were introduced extensively to A levels ten years ago, the A-level results have been improving steadily. Every year, without fail, there are reports of another 'best-ever' A levels. Yet, instead of national elation, there is mistrust, suspicion and doubt about rising standards amid allegations of grade inflation; resits are seen as the key reason for the big increases in A-level results. The research adopts an interpretivistic approach, based on the accounts of students and academic staff from three sixth-form educational institutions and university admissions tutors at two universities in England. It explores the practice of resits in sixth-form education, including how students make resit decisions, how they improve in the resit, how resits affect student learning, what impact resits have on the certification and selection roles of A levels, and how students of differing learner identity approach the resit challenge. It contends that, due to a lack of appreciation of the rationale behind the resit policy, no control of resits and the highly competitive nature of selection by universities, the A levels' resit policy has resulted in some educationally undesirable practices in sixth-form education. Only those who adopt a positive approach to resits, have help from their teachers and work hard to improve their learning and skills gain from the system and these conditions are differentially available to students. For the others, the resit system has resulted in an over-emphasis on A levels in sixth-form education, which involves taking examinations early through rushed teaching, elaborate resit strategies, dubious revision tactics and reliance on second chances. All these contribute to warping students' understanding of what counts as valid knowledge or what it means to learn. The resit system has accentuated the examination-oriented culture in sixth-form education and has resulted in an increased focus on extrinsic rewards, performance goals and a surface approach to learning, which may ill-equip students for success at university or for life-long learning. The research aims to demonstrate how a well-intentioned policy for a high-stakes examination can have unintended consequences when it comes to actual practice in the classroom. It concludes that in developing educational and assessment policies, due consideration needs to be given to their implications for student learning and their impact on education as a whole.


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