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November Resits: Chosen Few Or All In?


As 2023/24 sparks into life, exam season (both gone and future) seems a million miles away. However, for some, exams are closer than we’d like to admit and the November GCSE exam series will be with us more quickly than we’d like.


As a result, English and maths leaders will have already started preparing, notifying students of their options, exam dates and next steps.


Like so many elements of FE, there is enormous variability in next steps. Some will look to enter all students indicating a preference to resit; some will enter all students regardless of achievement and whilst others will take a more conservative approach, adding entry criteria.


There are pros and cons to each.


For those entering all students, we can see a central, short-term focus which motivates students and justifies revision, workshops and additional resources. College-wide teams are likely to ‘up’ their support and, with more entries, usually comes additional student achievement, meaning smaller classes following results day and greater contact time for those remaining. There is also the opportunity for students who may not have been entered under a more selective process – those who perform on the day and consequently see wider opportunities.


For those who do not achieve a grade 4 in the November exams, teachers can now use student’s completed scripts as detailed diagnostic assessment, identifying areas for development and strengths having taken advantage of exam board’s ‘access to scripts’ services (too often provided at great expense).


However, there are challenges here. Firstly, having suffered disappointment in the summer, many students simply don’t want to sit a November exam. Additionally, those who do want to sit the exam may well not be ready, with research showing the more students sit the exam, the less likely they are to achieve.


With increased costs and stagnant funding, there are also financial implications. With GCSE exam entry costs rising 7%-16%, entering all students is costly. Likely also is the challenge of attendance, with too many students failing to attend after exams, believing they have achieved and awaiting January results before attending. If results do not deliver positive outcomes, students may miss nearly a 5th of all teaching time in the run up to the summer series.


Mitigation for much of the above can be found in early discussions with students. If students sit along the 3 / 4 borderline, having open and honest discussions before summer exams, and providing resources over the summer period can significantly improve November preparation (though this can impact summer confidence – how would you feel in the run up to an exam if you were told to prepare for the next series?).


Of course, there are other approaches. Namely, providing entry conditions for students. First amongst these must include proximity to a grade 4. Asking students to find an additional 20-30 marks, having not studied since June, is unlikely and resitting at this point can damage confidence, self-esteem and teacher-student relationships.


As a result, those identified for the November exams should be within 5%-10% of a grade 4 and have shown enough application in the previous year to suggest this gap can be closed.

A second vital component is attendance. Requiring 90% attendance (from enrolment to exams), with additional revision classes, in the run up to the exam should be a minimum. After several months of limited summer study, significant focus and additional work is vital, first to ‘catch up’ to where students had been pre-summer, and then to overtake this point.


Furthermore, behaviour and application throughout Autumn sessions is key. If students lack focus, or focus on distracting others, they are unlikely to sufficiently sharpen their knowledge and understanding in readiness for the exam and so should not be entered.


It should also be acknowledged that maintaining progress follows a ‘law of diminishing returns’ - the final 10 or 20 marks needed to secure a positive outcome are far more difficult to achieve than 10 or 20 marks when starting from a lower level. It is for this reason that learners must demonstrate a committed, resilient attitude, and teachers should be vigilant and able to make difficult decisions when this does not happen.


There are some who see November exams as a right that every student should be given. When taking into account the additional cost, the additional teacher workload, the potential student anxiety and stress, the impact on the rest of the college (with most other areas needing to support either in the run up or on the day), the impact on other students and the accountability ramifications for leaders, it can be said that November resits are more a privilege (and privileges must be earned).


Though there are compelling arguments for both, the reality is that the best approach is the approach which suits each student. Students who are 20-30 marks away from a grade 4 may have suitable mitigation and rightfully demand entry to exams. Likewise, students achieving a single mark from a grade 4 may not engage with revision or attend and should not be entered.


It can be painful to deny students this opportunity – we want students to succeed, and we can be the gatekeepers to that success. However, it’s important to remember that we are the experts and we know better than anyone when a student is exam ready. We also know that the more times a student sits an exam, the less likely they are to achieve and this must play a part too.


Whether a student, teacher or leader in English and maths within Further Education in the run up to the November exams, The BASE Project has a library of DfE funded tools and resources to support all stakeholders.


For more information on the BASE Project, and how it is supporting colleges in the Northeast, Yorkshire and Humberside (and can support you), check out our website here.



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