Schools in England will be able to appeal their students’ GCSE and A-level results if they can show grades are lower than expected because previous cohorts are not “representative” of this year’s students.
England’s exams regulator has said schools and colleges can appeal if they can prove that historical data used to standardise grades is not a reliable indicator of this year’s results due to a change of circumstances.
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.
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 Covid-19. Instead, schools and colleges were asked to submit the grades they thought students would have received if they had sat the exams.
Exam boards have moderated the grades to ensure this year’s results are not significantly higher and the value of students’ grades are not undermined.
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.
The 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.
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.”