A-levels: why has Ofqual suspended its criteria to appeal grades?

Ofqual, the exams regulator for England, has suspended its criteria for students hoping to challenge their A-level grades on the basis of their mock exam results.

What has happened to the promised exam appeals process?

Last Tuesday Gavin Williamson announced that pupils in England could use grades from their mock exam to appeal if they were “unhappy” with the results allocated by Ofqual for both A-levels and GCSEs. The details were left up to the exam regulator to decide by Monday – but the Department for Education appeared not to have consulted Ofqual on the new grounds for appeal.

What happened this weekend?

On Saturday afternoon Ofqual published the promised guidance – with crucial details added. Ofqual’s wording appeared to allow a wide range of mock exams and “non-exam assessments” as evidence, with one headteacher calling it “a complete free-for-all”. But the regulator also said successful appeals would mean the Ofqual result would be replaced by either the teacher-assessed grade or the mock-exam grade – whichever was lower – contradicting Williamson’s earlier pledge that pupils would receive their mock grades after appeal.

But by 11pm on Saturday night, Ofqual removed the guidance from its website and put up a statement: “This policy is being reviewed by the Ofqual board and further information will be published in due course.” So far it has made no further comment.

Did the government know about Ofqual’s Saturday night fever?

Ofqual ‘blindsided’ government by revoking A-level appeals process

Almost certainly not. The Department for Education issued statements on Saturday evening endorsing Ofqual’s appeals process. And the schools minister, Nick Gibb, issued a letter to headteachers and principals at 8.30pm, stating that grounds for appeal included: “where a student has a valid mock result which is higher than the grade they have been awarded and wishes to have their mock result stand instead. Ofqual has issued criteria on what constitutes a valid mock result,” linking to the now-removed web page.

What should I do if I want to appeal my grades?

Wait. Until new guidance or decisions are announced, there is no way of knowing how the appeals will work. But in the meantime those applying for university or college places should tell admissions officers if they have mock exam results higher than the grade they received from Ofqual.

How would Ofqual’s appeals have worked?

Pupils would have three bits of information: their Ofqual-moderated grade, their mock-exam result, and their teacher-assessed grade. Under the deleted guidance, appeals would only succeed if the mock grade was higher than the Ofqual grade, and if the teacher-assessed grade was also higher than the Ofqual grade. So that meant only grades among the 39% of teacher assessments marked down by Ofqual could be appealed, also contradicting Williamson’s initial “triple lock” promise of either an Ofqual grade, a mock grade or an autumn exam.

What does this mean for GCSEs?

They are published on Thursday and the government is under considerable pressure to have an appeals process in place by then. However the government may have to take more dramatic action given the controversy, as well as its strained relationship with Ofqual. Ken Baker, a Tory peer and the former education secretary under Margaret Thatcher, has called for GCSE results to be delayed to allow an overhaul. Others, such as the headteachers’ unions, now lean towards dumping Ofqual’s grades and instead using teacher assessments, as in Scotland.

What about pupils who don’t have mock exam results?

That remains unclear. Ofqual’s process had “non-examination assessments” as one option, but that may be more heavily restricted when the new process is published, if it ever is.

Are other forms of appeal still allowed?

Other forms of appeal still stand, only Williamson’s last-minute offer of the use of mock exam grades is uncertain. But the other appeals are mainly school-based, for entire courses with a high bar of evidence required, or where an administrative error has been made. Individual students can appeal on the grounds of “malpractice” if they feel they are the victim of discrimination or bias by their school, but not by Ofqual.

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