A-level results: Ofqual suspends criteria for exam appeals hours after releasing policy

Exams watchdog says it is now ‘reviewing’ criteria under which students can challenge grades

Andy Gregory,Tom Barnes
Sunday 16 August 2020 00:30 BST
A-level results: Students protest outside Downing Street amid growing pressure for Gavin Williamson to resign

The exams regulator is reviewing its guidance for students on how to challenge their A-level grades using mock examination results.

Ofqual said the policy was “being reviewed” by its board and that further information would be released “in due course”. No reason for the decision was immediately available.

The move comes just hours after the body published its criteria for mock exam results to be considered as the basis of an appeal.

It threatens to plunge the A-level grading process in England into further disarray following an outcry from students after almost 40 per cent of predicted marks were downgraded by the regulator’s “moderation” algorithm.

In a statement late on Saturday, an Ofqual spokesperson, said: “Earlier today we published information about mock exam results in appeals.

“This policy is being reviewed by the Ofqual Board and further information will be published in due course.”

The previously published guidance set out eight criteria that mock exams needed to meet if they were to be considered “valid” under the appeals process.

It also said non-exam assessments could be considered in appeals, meaning recordings of performances by drama students, art work by arts students and practical projects by technology students could be relied upon as evidence.

In a statement released on Saturday afternoon, Ofqual said: “We want to make sure this opportunity is available to a wide range of students, including those who had not taken a written mock exam before schools and colleges closed.

“We will therefore allow a non-exam assessment mark to be used too. Successful appeals on this ground will allow the student to receive the mock grade.”

However, it drew criticism from Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, who said the whole appeals process had become so “surreal and bureaucratic” it should be abandoned altogether.

He urged the government to drop the moderated grades and return to the original teacher assessments instead.

“This is clearly a face-saving exercise by a government which has said that it won’t do a U-turn on its pledge that moderated grades will stand, come what may,” he said.

“Instead, it is attempting to remedy the grading fiasco through an appeals process so surreal and bureaucratic that it would be better off at this point doing that U-turn and allowing original teacher-assessed grades, where they are higher, to replace moderated grades.”

Meanwhile, fears have been raised that millions of GCSE grades will be awarded next week using the same controversial algorithm that caused A-level chaos this week.

Some 97 per cent of results across England will be calculated solely by using the method, The Observer reported.

“We will almost certainly see a repeat of the many problems seen with A-levels, only with GCSEs they could be more severe,” Natalie Perera, executive director of the Education Policy Institute think-tank told the newspaper.

The row over exam results may even end up in a court battle – The Times reported at least 10 teenagers and their parents are preparing to take legal action after results were downgraded by the marking system.

As demonstrators gathered outside Downing Street for a second day of protest on Saturday, one placard accused the education secretary Gavin Williamson of being “promoted beyond competence” – echoing his defence of downgrading pupils lest they be “over-promoted” into jobs beyond their abilities.

Hundreds of pupils gathered at Hyde Park’s Speakers’ Corner to hear pupils speak about how they had been affected, as the organiser called on the government to follow Scotland’s lead.

“There’s no reason why [the government] can’t click their fingers tomorrow and say, ‘schools should email all the centre assessed grades to universities, and they should accept those’,” said 18-year-old Ophelia Gregory, from Kent.

“The appeals process could take weeks and weeks and weeks, to the point where people have already missed their places. The deadline for Oxbridge, as it is for most universities, is 31 August because they’ve got to get their courses ready and know who is going.”

Additional reporting by PA

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