Our consultation on draft statutory guidance on exam boards’ arrangements for appeals this summer and decisions on GCSE, AS and A level autumn exams.

Students will be awarded calculated grades in GCSEs, AS and A levels this summer, giving them the opportunity to move on to further study or employment, despite the cancellation of exams. Students will be able to appeal – through their school or college – if they believe the process this summer was not followed correctly in their case; and centres themselves can appeal if they believe something systemic has gone wrong in relation to their results. Any student unable to receive a calculated result, and others who would like to improve their grades, will have an opportunity to take the full suite of GCSE, AS and A level exams in the autumn, Ofqual has confirmed today (Tuesday 30 June).

Appeals summer 2020

When we published the outcome of our consultation on this summer’s arrangements, we confirmed that a centre may appeal to the exam board if it believes the centre itself made an error when submitting a centre assessment grade or rank order information; or similarly, if it believes an exam board made a mistake when calculating, assigning or communicating a grade. We expect that any mistakes will be quickly found and corrected.

When consulting on this summer’s arrangements, we considered carefully opportunities for a student to challenge their centre assessment grades and position in their centre’s rank order. On balance, we decided it would not be in the interests of students or the fairness of the arrangements overall. Any appeal would have to be undertaken by someone better placed than the student’s teachers to judge their likely grade if exams had taken place – in the unique circumstances of this summer, we do not believe there is any such person. In addition, because of the role of the rank order in grading this year, such an appeal would have implications for other students in the cohort: if one student successfully appealed against their position in the rank order, it would have negative implications for other students who would, in turn, need to be given an opportunity to appeal.

If students or others have concerns about bias, discrimination or any other factor that suggests that a centre did not behave with care or integrity when determining the centre assessment grade and/or rank order information they should normally raise these concerns with their centre, in the first instance. In some cases, where there is evidence of serious malpractice on the part of the centre, it may be appropriate to bring those concerns directly to the exam board in the first instance. Where there is evidence, we require exam boards to investigate allegations as potential malpractice or maladministration. We expect such allegations to be rare, but this is an important safeguard for students and their overall confidence in this year’s grading arrangements.

Sally Collier, Chief Regulator, Ofqual, said:

We, and exam boards, are committed to helping students and their families understand how to access an appeal or make a complaint about bias, discrimination, or another concern. We will provide accessible information and have a helpline available to students and their parents or carers to talk about the appeals process and any other questions they may have about their results this summer.

When we published our consultation decisions last month, we committed to carrying out further work to consider whether to allow an appeal where a centre could evidence significant demographical changes in its cohort to justify changes in how the standardisation process was applied to its students. As a result of this work, we have decided this would amount to using the wrong data for the purposes of standardisation – centres can already appeal on these grounds. Our analysis indicates such cases would be exceptional, however, because the magnitude of change that would be required to affect calculation of results would need to be great.

This decision is reflected in draft statutory guidance we have published for consultation today, setting out our expectations of how exam boards will deliver appeals this summer. While the technical consultation is primarily aimed at exam boards, we welcome responses from others. It closes on 14 July.

General qualifications – autumn series

An important feature of the overall arrangements this summer is the planned additional exam series in the autumn. Amongst the c.3,500 responses to our consultation on this series, there was strong agreement that exam boards should offer the full suite of exams, with the same number and format of exams as in any normal series. Many agreed the series offered an important opportunity for students unable to receive a calculated grade, and others seeking to improve their grade, to take exams. Groups representing students who share particular protected characteristics also argued strongly in favour of the exams.

In line with our proposals, with the exception of art and design, grades will be based on exam performance alone, with no non-exam assessment (NEA). We have listened carefully to the range of views expressed, including arguments about the role NEA plays in assessing aspects of a subject’s content that cannot be assessed by exam; and concerns about the potential impact of removing NEA on some students, including those with special educational needs. We have published today research about the impact of coursework on different groups of students, such as those of different ethnicities and gender. It concludes that variation in GCSE and A level grade outcomes is largely explained by students’ prior attainment, and finds little evidence that coursework in the subjects researched has any impact on outcomes for students with special educational needs. Other respondents expressed concerns that NEA would be unmanageable for centres and students – particularly those who have since left their school or college – if we required new NEA to be undertaken. While some respondents were in favour of considering students’ existing NEA material, others believed this would be unfair, noting it would be in different states of completeness. While it would be desirable for the autumn series to include NEA, on balance we believe the issues of manageability and fairness raised with us could further disadvantage some students and that it is not in students’ best interests overall.

As we set out in our consultation, we will confirm the exact timing of the exams in due course, aiming for AS and A levels to be held in October and GCSEs in November. We understand the logistical challenges schools and colleges will face in the autumn and we will continue to talk to the sector about this. The Department for Education is exploring ways to minimise additional burdens on centres.

Published 30 June 2020