Exam board calls for urgent research into re-sits


The Assessment and Qualifications Alliance (AQA) is calling for urgent research into early exam entries and re-sits.

Speaking at the Advisory Committee on Mathematics Education (ACME) annual conference, Andrew Hall, CEO of the AQA said: "Over the last three years, the number of entries for GCSE Mathematics by students aged 15 or under has tripled. Last year, this equated to over 10% of the total entry and I expect to see that trend continue this summer.

"We need to understand why this is happening and what impact it will have.

"For students who are strong performers and will go on to study maths at a higher level, early entry may be a good thing. But what about the less able performers? Some teachers tell us the pressures of league tables are forcing them to enter students early to try to ‘bank’ a grade C, so they can then focus their teaching time and effort on those who will struggle to achieve a grade C. There are also concerns about the students who are entered too early being scared off the subject and joining the pool who believe they “can’t do Maths”. And let’s not forget that those who do make the grade may be losing out on the opportunity to build on their learning and perform even better.

“At a national level, this trend may be having a negative impact on the take-up of mathematics at A level and ultimately damaging our national competitiveness.

“I believe that this area needs robust research and diagnostic data which will help teachers make the right choices for their students. AQA and the other awarding bodies need to play an active part, even if it means less income for us from re-sit fees. This is about education and doing the right thing for students and the prize of building a nation more confident and able in mathematics should be our focus.

“Another real area of concern related to resits is the unintended consequences the current design of AS and A2 may be producing.

“There is a very clear pattern of students re-sitting units. Some would argue that giving students several bites at the cherry is a good thing. But more research is needed, since the scale of it, combined with the age profile of the students involved, suggests to me that what we are seeing is predominantly the re-sitting of the less demanding AS units, early and repeatedly.

“I think we should all be concerned about the potential effects on the students, what they are really learning and retaining, and what they are doing merely to reach a points score. There is a risk that we are kidding the students individually, and ourselves as a nation, about the level of mathematical capability.

A spokesperson for Ofqual said: "Ofqual has been asked by the Government to look at the rules around re-sits for GCSEs and A levels and work is already underway on this. We look forward to reading AQA's research, which will be looked at alongside other evidence when considering possible changes to the regulations in this area.

"Major changes have been made to both qualifications recently and as regulator we are keeping a close eye on the impact these have had. We will make sure that any further changes are based on evidence and that standards are appropriate and consistent across awarding organisations as they are introduced."

March 2011

School Leadership Today