How will exam grades be decided and how can students appeal?

Exams were cancelled amid the Covid-19 pandemic
Exams were cancelled amid the Covid-19 pandemic (PA Wire)
20:07pm, Tue 11 Aug 2020
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Thousands of students in England, Wales and Northern Ireland will receive their A-level and GCSE results this month after exams were cancelled amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Last week, Scottish school pupils received their results – but the system used to calculate grades prompted widespread criticism after nearly 125,000 entries were downgraded.

Scotland’s Education Secretary has now announced that these downgraded exam results will revert to the grades estimated by pupils’ teachers.

Here we look at some of the questions students and parents might be asking about this year’s results.

– When will pupils receive their A-level and GCSE results?

Students in England, Wales and Northern Ireland will receive their results on the usual dates in August – even though exams were cancelled.

A-level and AS level results day is Thursday, August 13 and GCSE results day is Thursday, August 20.

Students should check with their school or college whether they are still required to pick up their results in person in the morning, or whether they will be sent out by email or post instead.

– How have the grades been calculated?

After this summer’s exams were cancelled, teachers were told to submit the grades they thought each student would have received if they had sat the papers.

The predictions were sent to the exam boards alongside a rank order of which students they believed would do best within each grade for each subject.

Exam boards have moderated these school-assessed grades to ensure this year’s results are not significantly higher than previous years and the value of students’ grades are not undermined.

As part of the standardisation process, exam boards have also taken into account historical performance data to determine the proportion of students who achieved each grade in previous years.

Individual grades may have been adjusted upwards or downwards after moderation. This means that the final grade awarded to a student could be different from the one their school or college submitted.

– Can students know the original grades submitted by their school or college?

England’s exams regulator has warned that teachers will be investigated for potential malpractice if they tell students or parents predicted grades, or rank orders, ahead of results day.

In a letter to schools last month, Sally Collier, the chief regulator of qualifications body Ofqual, said the decision had been made to “protect the integrity” of the grading process and to avoid staff being “put under pressure”.

“Since the final grades for some or all students in a centre could be different from those submitted, it also helps to manage students’ expectations,” Ms Collier added.

But on results day, schools and colleges will be allowed to share their predictions with students.

– What should students do if they are unhappy with their final grades?

In England, Northern Ireland and Wales, 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.

But individual students will not be able to directly challenge their grades to the exam boards. They will be dependent on schools and colleges to appeal against results on their behalf.

A-Level results (PA Archive)

The only exception is in Wales where private candidates can appeal directly to the exam board.

Ofqual has said results can be appealed against if the school or college can show grades are lower than expected because previous cohorts are not “representative” of this year’s students.

The regulator has also 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.

For example, if a school has had a “significant change in leadership or governance”, or if a school has experienced a “monumental event” such as flooding or fire, then they can appeal over grades.

Schools and colleges can also appeal if it believes it made an error when submitting a grade, or if it believes an exam board made a mistake.

– Can students sit an exam if they do not like their results?

Students in England who are unhappy with their grades will have the opportunity to take A-level exams in October and GCSE exams in November.

The autumn exam series is for students in England who would like to improve the grade they receive, or for those who are unable to receive a calculated grade this summer.

AS and A-level exams will take place from October 5-23, and all GCSE exams will occur between November 2-23.

Ucas has warned that many universities will struggle to admit students for the 2020/2021 academic year if they want to sit an A-level exam to improve their grades.

– How will home-schooled pupils get results this summer?

If a school was able to produce an assessment grade for a home-schooled pupil, then the school will issue a result to the candidate on the results day.

But if schools or colleges were not able to produce an assessment grade, then private candidates can take exams in the autumn.

– Will it be harder to get onto university courses this year?

Clare Marchant, head of Ucas, has said it is a “good year” for prospective students in Britain who want to attend university because institutions will be competing to fill their courses at a time of uncertainty.

The “fragile” situation, where the number of overseas students could fall amid Covid-19, alongside the fact there are fewer 18-year-olds in the population, plays to UK “students’ strengths”, she said.

Ministers have urged universities to be “flexible” and take into account a range of evidence when choosing which students to admit on A-level results day.

Universities minister Michelle Donelan has told institutions to hold places for students challenging grades until they receive the outcome of their appeal.

The Ucas deadline – for applicants to meet their academic offer conditions – is September 7, which leaves exam boards less than four weeks to issue outcomes of appeals.

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