Education: Struggling to make the grade

The new examination appeals system promises to be more fair, but watch out, only eight in every 100 appeals secure a higher mark. By Judith Judd
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IF YOU want to appeal against your A-level results this year, you will have access to new arrangements which ministers believe will make the system more transparent and fairer. The Government is running pilot schemes for both A-level and GCSE which allow candidates in some areas to see their marked scripts. Ten thousand A-level students will receive copies of their marked scripts along with their results this morning. But, be warned. Students in Ireland who saw their scripts were so shocked by their mistakes that the number of appeals went down.

A new Examinations Appeals Board (EAB) will head the system but any initial appeal should be made directly to the exam board as before. For this, you need the support of your school or college which must forward your appeal to the board. You cannot apply as an individual. The school may ask the board to check that marks have been added up correctly or request a complete re-mark. A board may raise a grade but it will never lower one.

You need to be quick off the mark if you hope to change a grade which affects your university place for this autumn. University applicants who submit appeals by 27 August are entitled to a quick re-mark and a response within 30 days. Other applications should receive a reply within 40 days.

All the boards offer basic services which include a clerical re-check, a re-mark and a remark with a report on your exam. Schools can also apply for a report on a group of candidates. Fees vary according to the service and the exam. The clerical re-check (have the examiners added up the marks correctly?) for GCSE costs pounds 9.30. The highest re-mark charge is pounds 38 for an A-level and the highest for re-mark and report is pounds 76.90, also for an A-level.

If you are still not satisfied after the first checks, you can apply to the board's appeals secretary who will review the case (cost pounds 50).

It is only if you are still dissatisfied that you may turn to the independent appeals board. The new board will hear appeals from both schools and colleges and individuals but it will not be able, by itself, to re-mark candidates' work or to change grades, though it can direct the exam board to reconsider.

The courses covered are GCSE, A- and AS-level and the revised GNVQ.

Ministers want the new arrangements to speed up a process which has often dragged on in the past for over a year. Schools have complained that some candidates have lost the chance of a place at the university of their choice because of delays in sorting out their appeals.

Under the new system, appeals (cost pounds 90 each) must be made no later than three weeks after the exam board completes its procedures.

If the EAB decides the appeal is within its terms of reference, a hearing, which is open to the public, must take place within two weeks and the result must be announced within two days. If the examination board is told to reconsider, it must publish its response within a month.

Fees at each stage are refundable if an appeal is successful.

David Blunkett, the Secretary of State for Education, has tried to tighten the rules to ensure that candidates receive a better deal. The EAB will monitor exam boards' hearings and boards will be set targets for handling inquiries on results and appeals.

But should you appeal? The exam boards say that, despite their best efforts, mistakes in marking more than 15 million GCSE and A-level papers do happen sometimes. But George Turnbull of the Assessment and Qualifications Alliance warns that only a small proportion of appeals succeed. "Don't put all your eggs in one basket and hope that an appeal may work for you. Only eight out of 100 lead to a higher grade and that grade may not be as high as you had hoped. So have a plan B. Appraise your situation honestly and look at alternative courses but don't jump until you are sure they are for you."