A-level results 2020: how to appeal

Posted on 14 August 2020

As anticipated by many, there has been a backlash from students and teachers in relation to the 2020 A-level results, after almost 40% of teacher assessments in England were downgraded by Ofqual, the Government department that regulates qualifications, exams and tests in England.

Exams and assessments were cancelled this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic and, as a result, this year's A-level, AS-level and GCSE students are receiving calculated grades for each subject, said to be the grade they would be most likely to have achieved had the exams gone ahead. Grades were initially produced for students by each school or college on the basis of a range of evidence, including non-exam assessment and mock results. However, the grades then went through a process of standardisation with a view to ensuring that grades were fair between schools and colleges. Nearly 40% of grades were downgraded as a result of the standardisation process and some students have dropped two or even three grades below their teachers' predictions. That said, A-level entries awarded A or A* still increased to an all-time high in England, Wales and Northern Ireland with 27.9% of students securing top grades.

The Government has now confirmed arrangements for appeals on A level, AS level and GCSE grading, for those students who have not received the grades they anticipated.

If a student has concerns in relation to the way in which their grades were calculated, in the first instance, students need to discuss those concerns with the school or college in question. This is because, pursuant to the official guidance, students cannot bring appeals personally, but instead will have to ask their school or college to check and confirm whether it made an error when submitting grades or rank positions. If the school or college agrees that a mistake has been made, the student will need to ask the school or college to submit an appeal to the exam board on the student's behalf. If the school refuses to submit the appeal, it must have a process in place for students to ask for that decision to be reviewed. Where a student wishes to complain in respect of this process (or because the school or college does not have an appropriate process in place), it will be necessary to follow the school or college's complaints process. If the complaint is still unresolved, an approach should then be made to the exam board for further guidance.

Schools and colleges can also appeal results if they believe that mistakes have been made by Ofqual in processing their results or if a school can evidence that grades are lower than expected because previous cohorts at that institution are not representative of this year's cohort.

It has been reported that A-level downgrades have hit pupils from disadvantaged areas the hardest. Where students are concerned of bias or discrimination, additional advice can be sought from the Equality Advisory Support Service.

Given the number of students who are likely to have missed out on university offers due to downgrading of A-level grades, high numbers of requests for appeals are expected. Students who feel let down by the grading process also have the option to take a written exam in the autumn with a view to securing an improved grade. However, students will have to weigh up the possible benefits of doing so against the likely pressures, in circumstances where most students will have moved onto the next academic stage by the time of the exams.

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