A-level and GCSE results: improving schools can appeal grades

Ofqual will allow schools to challenge its results if it can evidence improvements in students’ performance

Improving schools and colleges in England can appeal this year’s A-level and GCSE results, the exam’s regulator has said.

Following pressure from the shadow education secretary, NUS and several school leaders, Ofqual updated its appeals process last night to allow schools to challenge results if it can evidence that students were on track to outperform previous cohorts.

The system this year uses a statistical profile of a school’s historical results to moderate teachers’ estimated grades. The moderation system was designed to ensure students’ final grades were in line with their school’s typical results, but it has been criticised for disadvantaging improving schools.

To demonstrate that its previous results are not reflective of this year’s cohort, schools must provide evidence that its students were exceptionally able or that a major change in leadership has led to a dramatic improvement in students’ performance.

Schools can also appeal if they recently became co-educational, or if an event ­– like a fire or flood – has affected one year’s results in the historical data used in the model.

Individual students will not be able to challenge their results.

Ofqual said the numbers getting good A-level grades this year will be 2% higher than last year, but much lower than the “optimistic” predictions from teachers, which would have put this year’s A-levels 12% higher than last year.

The same system was used by Ofqual’s counterpart in Scotland – the Scottish Qualifications Agency (SQA) – which lowered around a quarter of results during moderation.

SQA’s own equality impact assessment revealed that deprived schools were statistically more likely to have their grade estimates lowered by moderators.

In a letter to the Department for Education, shadow education secretary Kate Green said she was concerned that this year’s results could have a “potentially disproportionate impact on different demographics”.

“Analysis of the comparison between teacher estimates and the statistical moderation used to calculate the Scottish results has shown a reduction of 15.2 per cent in the most deprived communities, compared to just 6.9 per cent in the most affluent areas – entrenching inequality for those from the poorest backgrounds and areas,” Green explained.

Green alleged that under this system – which will also be used to calculate next week’s A-level and GCSE results in England – “students will be judged on their schools’ prior attainment and not on individual merit”.

Education secretary Gavin Williamson said: “It is vital that students with exceptional circumstances are not held back by the way grades have been calculated.”

Writing in the Daily Telegraph earlier this week, Dr Martin Stephen, former high master of St Paul’s Boys’ School in London, accused the system of “imposing a life sentence on children, with no effective right of appeal”. Pupils in England are still only allowed to appeal against results if they believe the moderation process has not been followed correctly and have “evidence of bias or discrimination”.

Ian Power, general secretary of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference, criticised the appeals process for being “even more narrow than normal”. He predicted legal action if Ofqual did not change the rules.

Related news: 2020 A-level grades: headteachers criticise ‘systematically unfair’ model

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