Skip to main content
Article thumbnail
Location of Repository

What has been the impact of re-sitting AS-Level examinations in Economics and Business Studies on students at a boys’ independent school in the West Midlands?

By David Andrew Williams


This dissertation examines the impact that AS-level re-sits have had on a selective independent boys’ school in the West Midlands, which in the interest of anonymity is referred to throughout as ‘School X’. Significantly, and as reflected in the title for this dissertation, unlike the vast majority of secondary schools, A2-level examinations at School X are not sat by students until the final summer of the two year course; therefore, re-sits at this level are not possible. The opening chapter provides an outline of how the introduction of unlimited re-sits can be perceived as being a logical progression as one of a number of developments in the A-level qualification, especially over the past two decades or so, which have invariably contributed to higher pass rates and levels of attainment, as measured by its six point (‘A’ to ‘U’) grading system. In the next chapter, secondary research has been divided into two sections. \ud The first considers the robustness of the qualification, which has existed for well over half a century and the extent to which its survival has reflected the interests of the key stakeholders who have benefited from its reputation as the nation’s educational ‘gold standard’. On one hand, the introduction of re-sits itself can be understood as one in a relatively long line of incremental changes in the structure of A-level, which have helped to prolong its shelf-life by making it a more accessible and quantifiably successful qualification. On the other, this can be contrasted against the extent to which the opportunity for students to re-sit might have contributed to, arguably, the implosion of the qualification in its Curriculum 2000 form, as pass rates nudge towards 100 per cent, and the subsequent need for either its fundamental restructuring or abandonment altogether. \ud The second section examines literature which is relevant to supporting a challenge against the popular notion that a modular course such as A-level contains few, if any, characteristics which are embodied in the ‘elements’ of a formative approach to teaching and learning as outlined by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD, 2005, p.15). A case is subsequently made for how a course which allows unlimited re-sits and where candidates have access to their marked scripts, still provides opportunities for interaction between teachers and students which are not normally associated with summative forms of assessment in the learning process. \ud Chapter three explains how primary data were gathered through various techniques, including an approach that involved a mixture of a structured group interview and self-completion questionnaire, which two broad categories of students at School X participated in over a two year period. One of these consisted of students studying either A-level Business Studies or Economics (and in a few cases, both subjects). The other consisted of ‘pre-Alevel’ students, back in school at the end of the summer term after sitting their GCSEs, for a few ‘taster lessons’ in their chosen subjects for A-level. A combination of questions which elicited both quantitative and qualitative responses was used in this instrument of research which represented something of an unconventional approach to methodology, but it proved to be an appropriate technique for efficiently amassing data from scores of students each year, at various stages in their post-16 studies. Interviews were also conducted with numerous members of the teaching profession, mainly, but not exclusively, at School X and for the purpose of comparison with similar institutions, three discussions took place on an annual basis with staff from other independent schools, guided by me on a ‘focus group’ basis. Supplemented by information from examination performance documents produced by senior management at School X, commercial publications, the examination boards themselves and a variety of governmental and quasi-governmental sources, this allowed me to adhere to a ‘data triangulation’ approach, as classified by Denzin (1988) and summarised by Robson (2002, p.175), which “help[ed] to counter…the threats to validity.” The one-to-one interviews on the other hand became more tightly structured with each round, to reflect the sharper objectives for the dissertation which emerged over time and were thus orientated towards a ‘within-method triangulation’ approach (Denzin, 1988). \ud Turning more specifically, in chapter four, to the main objectives of the study, the analysis of results and findings from my empirical research attempts to establish the main motives for re-sitting A-level Economics and Business Studies, as well as the costs and benefits of so doing. The latter objective primarily concerns students, but other factors, such as the impact on the teaching process, are also examined. Chapter five considers the future role of A-level re-sits in the context of the restructuring of the qualification from September 2008 and the alternatives in the post-16 curriculum that exist. The study concludes with a brief, reflective chapter, on how re-sits can contribute to teaching and learning

Topics: LB1603
OAI identifier:

Suggested articles


  1. 14 th,
  2. (2002). A Comparison of A-level Performance doi
  3. (1996). A critique of the neglected epistemological assumptions of educational research’,
  4. (2003). A level grades, type of school and HE performance’, (Online article). Available at Accessed on
  5. (1978). A New Examination of Examinations,
  6. (1984). A Teacher’s Guide to Assessment,
  7. (2008). A university drop-out is a sign of wider failure’, (Online article). Available at
  8. (2008). A-level exams system is “not fit for purpose”’, (Online article). Available at Accessed on October 15 th,
  9. (2003). A-level maths to be made easier after student rolls fall’, in The Independent,
  10. (2007). A-level pass rate heads for all-time high of 97 per cent’, (Online article). Available at Accessed on 2 nd
  11. (2006). Admissions processes for five year medical courses at English schools’ (Online report). Available at Accessed on April 12 th,
  12. (1988). Advancing A-Levels: Report of a Committee appointed by the Secretary of State for Education and Science, and the Secretary of State for
  13. (2008). Ambitious students choose tougher subjects’, (Online article). Available at
  14. (2007). Ambitious students go for tougher subjects’, The Daily Telegraph,
  15. (2006). An examination of the implications of on-line marking for Assistant Examiners’, EdD Specialist Study, Warwick Institute of Education,
  16. (2006). Are A levels and GCSEs easier?’, (Online article). Available at
  17. (2007). As complaints grow, schools look to change’, in The Daily Telegraph,
  18. (1984). AS-Levels: proposals by the Secretaries of State for Education and Science, and Wales for a broader curriculum for A-Level students,
  19. (1990). Assessment Debates,
  20. Association website (2003) ‘Examinations and Assessment: proposals by the Secondary Heads Association for a radical reform of examinations and assessment’, Policy Paper 2, (Online report). Available at Accessed on
  21. (2003). Baccalaureate is better than A-level, say university tutors’, (Online article). Available at Accessed on
  22. (1994). Beginning Qualitative Research,
  23. (1994). Beyond Testing: Towards a Theory of Educational Assessment, doi
  24. (2004). Britain: furore over A-level exams motivated by defence of class privilege’, (Online article). Available at Accessed on
  25. Business is booming for the exam factory foremen’, The Times Educational Supplement,
  26. (2002). Can Testing Really Raise Educational Standards?’, (Online document). Available at Accessed on
  27. (1990). Changing Educational Assessment,
  28. (1987). Chart of all A-level results for 1992-2001’, (Online statistics). Available at Accessed on
  29. (1995). Comparing Response Rates and Response Content in Mail versus Electronic Mail Surveys',
  30. (1994). Competing for the Future, doi
  31. (1995). Computer Mediated Scholarly Discussion Groups', doi
  32. (2008). Credit crunch: more students take a gap year to save money after A-levels’, (Online article). Available at Accessed on August 21 st,
  33. (1997). Culture and Subjectivity in the Discourse of Assessment: A Case Study’,
  34. (2001). Curriculum 2000: The first year of implementation’ (Online report). Available at Accessed on
  35. (2004). Curriculum Choice at A level: why is Business Studies more popular than Economics?’, (Online report). Available at Accessed on doi
  36. (1990). Data quality in longitudinal research,
  37. (2007). Diplomas finally get a thumbs up’, (Online article). Available at Accessed on
  38. (2007). Diplomas risk failure through ignorance’, (Online article). Available at Accessed on
  39. (2007). Diplomas set to replace A-levels as “jewel in the crown” of exams system’, (Online article). Available at Accessed on
  40. (2006). Doing Action Research: A Guide for School Support Staff,
  41. (2007). Doing Focus Groups, doi
  42. (1999). Doing Your Research Project: A guide for first-time researchers in education and social science, Third Edition, doi
  43. (2008). Doubt cast on diploma skills: universities question whether new qualification will prepare students for degree courses’, The Times Educational Supplement,
  44. (2003). Economic Education in England’, (Online report). Available at Accessed on May 29 th,
  45. (2003). Education Britain,
  46. (2007). Education by numbers: The Tyranny of Testing, doi
  47. (2006). Education Guardian website (2005) ‘Universities to see breakdowns of A-level results’, (Online article).
  48. Education Guardian website (2007) ‘A-level results by subject’, (Online data). Available at Accessed on
  49. (1998). Education Policy, Eastbourne, The Gildredge Press Ltd. UCAS website press release (2007) ‘Record numbers accepted on results day’, (Online data). Available at
  50. (1998). Education: legacy, opportunities and challenges’, doi
  51. (1999). Educational Assessment: A Critique of Current Policy, doi
  52. (2000). Educational Research: Contemporary Issues and Practical Approaches, doi
  53. (2008). Elite rival to A-levels wins backing from exams body’, (Online article). Available at Accessed on April 12 th,
  54. (2006). Entrance requirements’, (Online information). Available at Accessed on 9 th
  55. (2006). Exam watchdog unveils plans for A-level reform’, (Online article). Available at Accessed on August 28 th,
  56. (1990). Examinations Post-16: Developments for the 1990s’, London, Central Office of Information.
  57. (1985). Examinations: A Commentary,
  58. (2008). Examinations: request by author for information via its website at
  59. (2002). Excluding two candidates from a neighbouring independent girls’ school.245 TABLE 3: A-level Business Studies and A-level Economics 1992-2008 Percentage of candidates achieving each grade in England and Wales Data for 1992-2001 from the QCA website
  60. (2002). Exploring Corporate Strategy, Sixth Edition,
  61. (1982). Field Research: A Source Book and Field Manual, London, Allen and Unwin. doi
  62. (2007). Fifty fourth meeting of the Board of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority’, (Online report). Available at Accessed on
  63. (2002). figures for E, N and U combined were published.246 APPENDIX 2: Number and Percentage of candidates achieving each grade in A-level Business Studies and A-level Economics at School X 2002-2008 (cumulative percentages in brackets)*
  64. (1996). Focus Group Interviews in Education and Psychology, Thousand Oaks,
  65. (1992). Following the introduction of Curriculum
  66. (2004). Following the introduction of Curriculum 2000, from
  67. (2008). From data following a request for information, via the QCA website, by the author.231 QCA (2008b) From a request for information, sent by email by the author to the A Level Programme Leader at the QCA, Reform
  68. (1998). Fundamentals of Educational Research, doi
  69. (1990). Future trends in assessment’,
  70. (2008). Government defends its progress on diplomas’,
  71. (1985). Group Interviewing’,
  72. (2007). Growing numbers of A-level students choosing further maths’, (Online article). Available at Accessed on
  73. (2007). House of Commons Hansard (2007a) text for 15 th March, Column 541, (Online report). Available at Accessed on 25 th
  74. (1999). How Exams Really Work: Guide to GCSEs, AS and A Levels,
  75. (1995). How to Pass A Levels and GNVQs,
  76. (2003). How to work the system’, (Online report). Available at Accessed on 24 th
  77. (2008). Imperial College to introduce entrance exams’, in The Independent,
  78. (2008). Internet Survey Design’, doi
  79. (2005). IOP Chief on A-level results’, (Online article). Available at Accessed on
  80. (2006). Letter from Ruth Kelly, former Education Secretary to Ken Boston, the Chief Executive of the QCA, accessed online via the QCA website. Available at Accessed on
  81. (2007). LSE expands to accommodate growth in student numbers’, (Online article). Available at Accessed on
  82. (2005). LSE sets secret state quota’, (Online article). Available at Accessed on August 10 th,
  83. (1991). Management Research: An Introduction, doi
  84. (1986). Maximizing Examination Performance: A Psychological Approach,
  85. (2000). Measured lives: the rise of assessment as the engine of change in English schools’, doi
  86. (2006). Modelling Curriculum Choice at A-level: Why is doi
  87. (1999). Modular GCE AS and A-level Examinations
  88. (2003). New A level system would be “2008 earliest”’, (Online article). Available at
  89. (2004). New Labour and doi
  90. (2004). News Media Depiction of A-Level and GCSE results in 2003’, (Online report). Available at Accessed on 19 th
  91. (2006). Nuffield Review Higher Education Focus Groups Preliminary Report’, (Online report). Available at Accessed on 12 th
  92. (2007). Ofsted The Office for Standards in Education is the non-ministerial department of Her Majesty’s Chief Inspectorate of Schools in England, which merged with the Adult Learning Inspectorate in
  93. (2005). Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development doi
  94. (2002). Our pupils are suffering from exam overload’, (Online article). Available at Accessed on
  95. (2007). Pass rates rise again in the exam “you can’t fail”’, The Daily Telegraph,
  96. Post-Results Services: Information and guidance for centres on Enquiries about Results and Access to Scripts, Joint Council for Qualifications.
  97. (2006). Pre-U – the new A-level?’, (Online article). Available at Accessed on December 1 st,
  98. (2006). Pupils warned A-levels unsuitable’, (Online article). Available at Accessed
  99. (2006). Pupils will upgrade university if they better A-level prediction’ (Online article). Available at Accessed on May 10 th,
  100. (2007). QCA (2007b) ‘Extended project’, information circulated by QCA to schools,
  101. (2006). QCA website (2003) ‘Revision of A-level re-sit regulations’, (Online article). Available at Accessed on May 5 th,
  102. (2008). QCA website (2007a) ‘QCA accredits new A levels from
  103. (2007). Qualitative Research for Education: An Introduction to Theories and Methods, Fifth Edition,
  104. (2002). Real World Research, Second Edition,
  105. (2006). Record A-level grades fuel debate on reform’, (Online article). Available at Accessed on
  106. (1995). Research and the Teacher: A Qualitative Introduction to School-based Research, doi
  107. (1994). Research Methods in Education, Fourth Edition, doi
  108. (2000). Researching children’s perspectives: legal issues’, in
  109. (2007). Results
  110. (2000). Results for candidates who fail to achieve the minimum pass grade E
  111. (1990). School Examinations – Some Sociological Issues’,
  112. (2005). Screaming spires: pressure in the university scene’,
  113. (2007). Select Committee on Education and Skills Fifth Report: What are diplomas and what are they for?, (Online report). Available at Accessed on 18 th
  114. (2003). Select Committee on Education and Skills Third Report: The background to the A levels debate, (Online report). Available at Accessed on 9 th
  115. (2003). Send 70pc of all school-leavers to university says education chief’, (Online article). Available at Accessed on 25 th
  116. (2008). Should we keep league tables?’,
  117. (1990). Specialisation and selection in secondary education’, doi
  118. (2007). Statistics Agency doi
  119. (2004). Student offers should recognise easy A levels’, (Online article).
  120. (2007). Students snap up university places on results day’,
  121. (2006). Supplement, ‘A-levels are not for the elite alone’,
  122. (2007). Support grows for alternatives as A-levels fail to make the grade’, (Online article). Available at Accessed on
  123. Teachers told not to promote A levels’, The Times,
  124. (2005). Teaching For the Test: How and Why Test Preparation is Appropriate’,
  125. (2002). Teaching students not to think’, The Spectator, December th,
  126. (1998). Testing: Friend or Foe? The Theory and Practice of Assessment and Testing, doi
  127. (2008). The academic experience and outcomes of students with vocational level 3 qualifications’, (Online report). Available at Accessed October 12 th,
  128. (2000). The Choreography of Qualitative Research Design: Minuets, Improvisations, and Crystallization’,
  129. (2000). The educational self-perceptions of children with Down Syndrome’,
  130. (1989). The Examiner: James Booth and the origins of common examinations, doi
  131. (2000). The Meanings and consequences of educational assessments’, doi
  132. (2005). The Most Frequently Unasked Question About Testing’,
  133. (1991). The Reform of Advanced Level, doi
  134. (1988). The Research Act: A Theoretical Introduction to Sociological Methods, doi
  135. (1995). The Theory of Assessment: An Introduction,
  136. (2007). The Top 200 World Universities’, (Online information). Available at Accessed on
  137. (1996). The Unstructured Interview as a Conversation’,
  138. (2002). This strange desire to strive for failure in our education system’, in The Independent,
  139. (2007). Top ten subject decreases’,
  140. (2006). Top universities still have places for students with lower Alevel grades’, in The Independent on Sunday,
  141. (2008). UCAS website (2008b) ‘If your applicants have not secured an offer, Clearing gives them another opportunity to gain a place’, (Online information). Available at Accessed on October 15 th,
  142. (2008). Understanding and using assessment data’, in
  143. (2000). Understanding Assessment: Purpose,
  144. (2002). Universities call for single board to run A-levels’,
  145. (2006). Universities may seek 18 “A grades” for popular courses’, in The Independent,
  146. (2008). Universities: A-levels’, text for 4 th February, Column 845, (Online report). Available at Accessed on
  147. (2005). We’ve all failed A-level’ (Online report). Available at Accessed on
  148. (2006). website (2001) ‘So are A-levels getting easier?’, (Online article) Available at Accessed on May 29 th,
  149. website (2002) ‘Students “stressed” by exam overload’, (Online article). Available at Accessed on
  150. website (2003) ‘A-level students get unlimited re-sits’, (Online article). Available at Accessed on
  151. website (2006b) ‘Plans to change university entry’. (Online article). Available at Accessed on
  152. (2007). website (2007a) ‘Record numbers get student places’. (Online article). Available at
  153. (2008). website (2007b) ‘Diplomas begin replacing A-levels’. Available at Accessed on August 4 th,
  154. (2007). website (2007c) ‘Will universities exclude middle classes?’, (Online article). Available at Accessed on December 12 th,
  155. (2008). website (2007d) ‘How universities narrow schooling’, (Online article). Available at Accessed
  156. (2008). website (2008a) ‘Heads’ tough warning on Diploma’, (Online article). Available at
  157. (2008). website (2008b) ‘“Lack of will” on fair admissions’, (Online article). Available at Accessed on August 24 th,
  158. (2006). What is the future for A-levels?’, (Online report). Available at
  159. (2008). Why I chose the university of wherever’, (Online article). Available at Accessed on
  160. (1997). Widening participation in higher education by ethnic minorities, women and alternative students’, (Online article). Available at Accessed on
  161. (2008). Withdrawal of Advanced Extension Award (AEA) specifications’. Available at
  162. (2006). Yet more pupils make the A grade’, (Online article). Available at

To submit an update or takedown request for this paper, please submit an Update/Correction/Removal Request.