Exams 2020: Ofqual confirms final appeals process for GCSEs and A-levels

Schools and colleges will be able to appeal against GCSE and A-level results if they feel data used to standardise grades was not a “reliable basis” for predicting 2020 results, Ofqual has confirmed.

The exams regulator has set out the full arrangements for appeals this year, confirming that centres will be able to appeal if they were expecting results this year to “show a very different pattern of grades to results in previous years”.

All summer exams were cancelled this year following the Covid-19 outbreak. Instead, settings were asked to submit the grades they thought pupils would have received had they taken exams, and to rank pupils within those grades.

Exam boards have then used historical data to standardise grades, but this has prompted concerns that pupils at certain institutions – such as those on an improvement journey or that have gone through recent big changes – could be adversely affected.

As set out earlier this year, Ofqual has confirmed that students will not be able to appeal themselves, but they will be able to ask their centres whether they have made an administrative error in submitting their grade or position in the rank order. If centres agree, they can submit an appeal to the exam board on pupils’ behalf.

Centres will be able to appeal if they believe something has gone wrong in processing the results, such as an error in their own submission, or if they believe an exam board has made a mistake “when calculating, assigning or communicating a grade”.

They will also be able to appeal if they can “evidence grades are lower than expected because previous cohorts are not sufficiently representative of this year’s students”.

This could include where a single-sex school has become co-educational, where there has been “significant change” in leadership or governance, where settings have experienced “monumental events” such as fire or flood.

Centres will also be able to appeal if they were “expecting results this year to show a very different pattern of grades to results in previous years”, Ofqual said.

“That could include where the grades of unusually high or low ability students been affected by the model because they fall outside the pattern of results in that centre in recent years,” said Ofqual.

“In most cases, this will only be apparent by reviewing centre-wide data. Therefore centres, rather than individual students, will be best placed to consider whether this has occurred.”

Ofqual has also published information to help students understand whether they might have reason to complain about bias or discrimination. Although they won’t be able to appeal on these grounds, pupils can make a complaint.

If they suspect bias or discrimination, students have been told to first speak to their centre and raise a complaint through its complaints policy. If they feel their concerns are not addressed by their centre, students can then consider raising concerns with the issuing exam board.

But Ofqual’s guidance states that this “would not be an appeal, but rather an allegation that malpractice or maladministration occurred in relation to your centre assessment grade(s) or rank order position(s)”.

The regulator said such allegations “would be serious, and taken seriously”, and that they would not be subject to the same deadlines as appeals.

The guidance also states that in cases where students have a concern about raising allegations with centres, it “may be appropriate for you to discuss this directly with the exam board instead”.

Students “can also contact the Equality Advisory Support Service for advice if they think they have evidence of discrimination”, Ofqual said.