Coursework and coursework assessment in the GCSE : a multi-case ethnography
This thesis is an empirical examination of coursework and coursework assessment in the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE). The research was conducted using the condensed fieldwork methods of multi-site case study, and fits broadly within the ethnographic research tradition. Case studies of the effects of coursework were made in six schools, across three different counties and two metropolitan districts. Examination texts, it is argued in the thesis, are open to interpretation and re-interpretation at different moments of use. Textual reading, moreover, is only part of the policy process - construction, reading, meaning formulation, meaning re-formulation and implementation. Texts allow multiple readings, although some texts are more 'readerly' than 'writerly'. These sources of meaning compete with previous examination technologies and with other discursive forms. They are practical documents and they are guided by specific sets of ideological meaning. They seek to provide apparatus for differentiating between candidates, and they play their part in the creation of individual subjectivities. A typology of teachers' attitudes towards GCSE coursework is developed, and these are classified as conformist, adaptive, oppositional, ritualistic, transformative and non-conformist. Teachers' initial reading of GCSE texts or their initial confrontation with the ideas behind the new examination draws upon both those internalized rules which actors reproduce in their day to day working lives and those structural resources which position actors within set frameworks. Those elements of structure that are relevant to the matter in hand condition, but do not determine, actors' responses. Initial textual readings give way to subsequent interpretations and reinterpretations of coursework processes, and all the various readings are implicated in the implementation and reimplementation of coursework strategies. This cycle of activity at different moments and in different guises influences actual practice. An account is given of the way those structural and interactional influences impact upon initial textual readings within one of the case-study schools. Curriculum policy and curriculum practice within specific sites is always the result of contestation. Within institutions that devolve power and decision-making, outcomes are never all the same; that contestation will have different outcomes at different moments and at different places. Further to this, five sets of polarized concepts - weak/strong knowledge framing, formative/summative modes of assessment, the production of reliable/unreliable assessment data, limited/extended amounts and types of teacher interventions in coursework processes and normal/irregular classroom practices - are developed to help analyse issues such as the influence of the GCSE on classroom practice, integration of assessment and curriculum, pupil-teacher relations, pedagogy and pupil motivation. Finally the threads of the argument that has been developed in this thesis are drawn together to show how dislocated relationships between examination policy texts and realisation have consequences for examination comparability, educational disadvantage, and the production and reproduction of educational knowledge in schools.