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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

Abstract

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: oai:wrap.warwick.ac.uk:2803

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