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.