Getting the grades they’ve earned: Covid-19: the cancellation of exams and ‘calculated’ grades Contents

3The appeals process: a process for the well-heeled and sharp-elbowed?


35.We took evidence on the system Ofqual has devised for appealing grades. Sally Collier assured us that Ofqual has “spent many hours with very many people trying to come up with the fairest possible appeal system in the circumstances”56 Tom Bewick told us that given the circumstances, the 2020 system “is effectively the least worst option”.57

36.We understand that Ofqual is working within parameters defined by the Secretary of State’s direction, which instructed Ofqual to develop an appeals policy “focused on whether the process used the right data and was correctly applied, rather than seeking to overturn teachers’ professional judgement on individual students’ ability”.58 Accordingly, students will not be able to appeal teachers’ professional judgements that informed their grade, but will be entitled to

ask their centre to check whether they made an error when submitting a centre assessment grade and including them in the centre’s rank order. They will be able to raise a complaint to their centre if they have evidence of bias or that they were discriminated against.59

37.We heard from Sally Collier that “If an appeal goes through the system and students do not feel it has been fair”, students can appeal to Ofqual as the regulatory arbiter.60 She acknowledged the need to make sure that the process is “as accessible as possible.”61

38.We asked Ofqual about the fairness of the appeals system, highlighting that providing evidence of bias or discrimination is an unrealistic threshold, and one which will be “the preserve of the well-heeled, the most articulate”.62 We pressed Ofqual for details on how pupils, particularly disadvantaged pupils, would be supported in practice. Sally Collier told us that she does not “claim to have any easy answers” on these issues, but Ofqual will ensure that students who believe they have been subject to bias or discrimination “are supported, that they know the routes.”63 We put it to Ofqual that more affluent families are more likely to have the tools to navigate the appeals system successfully, and are more likely to be able to drawn on resources such as lobbying their MP or speaking to lawyers.64 We remain unconvinced that the process for appealing against grades is fair and accessible.

Navigating the appeals process

39.We asked Ofqual about the mechanics of the appeals process, including who a young person should go to for advice and support. Sally Collier told us that the pupil should approach their school, but “we need to look at who else can help them.”65 Michelle Meadows further told us that Ofqual has a public telephone helpline.66 In a consultation launched by Ofqual on 30 June 2020, Ofqual confirmed that both they and the National Careers Service will be offering helplines “which will be able to provide information about the arrangements for appeals or malpractice or maladministration concerns”.67 It is right that Ofqual is anticipating demand for advice and support on and after results day. However, the National Careers Service is, first and foremost, a careers advice portal, not a results or appeals specialist service. We are worried that Ofqual’s guidance on this states that the National Careers Service “can pass any complex enquiries to us if needed”.68 This certainly does not fill us with confidence that the National Careers Service’s helpline will be capable of providing the expert professional advice needed by anxious pupils on results day.

40.When questioned on how pupils can challenge the calculated grade they are awarded, Sally Collier told us that “Each exam board has its own process for taking an appeal.”69 We asked whether this meant that each exam board could design the process differently. Sally Collier assured us that exam boards “will want to make sure [ … ] that where they can, the look and feel of their systems is consistent.”70 However, she was not able to provide details, telling us that “detail is being worked out as we speak”.71 It seems to us unnecessarily burdensome for every exam board to have a different process to navigate. We would not wish this to become an additional burden for those navigating the system.

Ensuring accessibility

41.We are extremely concerned that pupils will require evidence of bias or discrimination to raise a complaint about their grades. It is unrealistic and unfair to put the onus on pupils to have, or to be able to gather, evidence of bias or discrimination. Such a system also favours more affluent pupils and families with resources and knowledge of the system.

42.Ofqual must urgently publish the evidence thresholds for proving bias or discrimination, clearly setting out what evidence will be required, including example case studies. This must be communicated to parents and pupils in advance of results day.

43.Where pupils with SEND, or their families, have concerns about their grade, they must be allowed to see the evidence, such as past work or mock exams, used by teachers to arrive at their calculated grade. If appropriate access arrangements were not in place for the work used, or if their school did not use evidence from SEND specialists if this was appropriate, the pupil must be allowed to appeal on the basis of malpractice or maladministration.

44.Both Ofqual and the National Careers Service will be offering helplines to provide support and advice on and after results day. Two helplines must not mean a two-tier system. It is imperative that whichever number pupils ring, they will be provided with the same gold-standard, professional advice.

45.Ofqual must ensure advice and support is easily accessible for all pupils unhappy with their grades. Both the helplines provided by Ofqual and the National Careers Service must be freephone lines. These must both be staffed by dedicated professionals with the training to provide sound and impartial step-by-step advice and support on appeals.

46.Ofqual must issue guidance to schools and colleges about the options available for pupils unhappy with their results. Letters to pupils should be sent out by schools and colleges, to ensure they are aware of their options, including the standard of evidence required to bring an appeal on the basis of bias or discrimination. Schools and colleges should clearly communicate to pupils and families which staff member will be their point of contact for discussions about next steps.

68 Ibid.

Published: 11 July 2020