Schools in England will be able to appeal their students’ GCSE and A-level results if they can prove grades are lower than expected.
England’s exams regulator has said schools and colleges can appeal if they can show historical data used to standardise grades is not a reliable indicator of this year’s results due to a change of circumstances.
However, individual pupils will not be allowed to challenge grades themselves, Ofqual has confirmed, and schools and colleges will need to appeal against results on their behalf.
The guidance – published a week before A-level results day – comes after a former private school head warned that not allowing appeals against unfair exam results risks ‘imposing a life sentence’ on some pupils.
It follows chaos in Scotland, where 124,564 pupils were marked down by exam bosses, after teachers ‘tried to give them the highest results in history’.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said: ‘It is vital that students with exceptional circumstances are not held back by the way grades have been calculated’
Concerns have been raised that the ‘narrow’ criteria for challenging grades may ‘exacerbate existing inequalities’ and result in legal action against exam boards.
It comes after this summer’s exams were cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Instead, schools and colleges were asked to submit the grades they thought students would have received if they had sat the exams.
However, it was revealed last week that statistical modelling will be used to determine the majority of this year’s A-level and GCSE results, rather than predicted grades from teachers.
Exam regulator Ofqual announced the government u-turn after concerns regarding the reliability of teacher-predicted grades were raised.
The new statistical model will take into account a number of factors, including pupils’ previous attainment, results of previous students at the same school and the predicted grades teachers submitted in March.
Now, new guidance by Ofqual sets out how schools and colleges can appeal GCSE and A-level grades, which students are set to receive over the next fortnight.
Schools and colleges can appeal if they were expecting results this year to ‘show a very different pattern of grades’ to results in previous years because of the ability profile of students this year.
If a school has had a ‘significant change in leadership or governance’ – and it can provide evidence that its previous grades are ‘not a reliable indicator’ of this year’s results – it will also be allowed to challenge results.
If a single-sex school has changed to co-educational – or a school has experienced a ‘monumental event’ such as flooding or fire which meant it had to move and it affected previous exam results – then they can appeal grades.
Schools and colleges can appeal to the exam board if it believes it made an error when submitting a grade or if it believes an exam board made a mistake.
Pupils can ask their school or college to check whether it made an administrative error when submitting their grade – and they can ask them to submit an appeal to the exam board if it did.
Students will not be able to directly appeal their calculated grades to the exam boards, but they can submit allegations about bias or discrimination.
Ofqual has advised students to complain to their college or school in the first place about potential malpractice. If their concerns are not addressed, pupils can formally complain to the exam board.
Students in England who are unhappy with their grades will also have the opportunity to take A-level exams in October and GCSE exams in November.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said: ‘It is vital that students with exceptional circumstances are not held back by the way grades have been calculated – including those who are highly talented in schools that have not in the past had strong results, or where schools have undergone significant changes such as a new leadership team.
‘This appeals process does this. Students will also have the opportunity to take exams this autumn if they are unhappy with their grades.’
Not allowing pupils the right to appeal GCSE or A-Level exam grades they think are unfair had earlier been linked to imposing a ‘life sentence’.
There are concerns that results day next week could be chaotic as thousands of teenagers may receive ‘unfair’ marks.
Dr Martin Stephen, the former High Master of St Paul’s Boys’ School told The Daily Telegraph the system was equivalent to ‘imposing a life sentence, with no right of appeal’.
The new guidance comes after outrage in Scotland where the grade moderation process reduced the pass rate of the poorest Higher pupils by more than twice that of the richest.
The Scottish Qualifications Authority downgraded the students’ marks for the exams that were not sat, changing a massive 93.1 per cent of all the moderated scores.
Chief Examining Officer Fiona Robertson said if the SQA had not stepped in exam pass rates would have risen at every level and would have been the highest on record.