Final marks to be set by teachers for Summer 2020 exams… a guide for students

9 mins

Posted on 14 Apr 2020

To the amazement and in some cases jubilation of 15-16 and 17-18 year olds across England, the Secretary of State for Education announced that the 2020 summer exam series was cancelled to help fight the spread of Covid-19. 

After the shock subsided, the announcement inevitably led to a multitude of questions from parents and students:

  • How will examination grades be awarded?
  • What exactly is taken into consideration when the grades are awarded?
  • What happens if a teacher who doesn’t like me ends up giving me my grades?
  • I didn’t do well in my mocks, is this going to affect my grades?
  • What if I don’t agree with the grade that I have been given? 
  • I was planning a final push of revision and I was confident that I would do better in my exams than I have in classwork so far, how will this be reflected in my grades?
  • Can I appeal my grades?
  • How does the appeal process work?
  • What will be taken into consideration at appeal?
  • Who will administer the appeals process?
  • Will I get help to prepare for an appeal?
  • What happens if I don’t agree with the decision on appeal?

This guide provides answers to many of these questions, as well a useful insight into how the summer 2020 exam series will work. Some questions though remain unanswered and will depend on the consultations and review work underway at the secretary of state and the regulator. 

The current situation (as at 14 April 2020)

So far, Ofqual has published two sets of guidance and a letter to GCSE, AS and A-level students in England. The regulator has stated that its overriding aim is to be ‘fair’ to students this summer and to ensure they are not disadvantaged in terms of their progress to sixth form, college, university, apprenticeships, training or work.

Ofqual has also said that it has worked ‘at speed’ to develop a process to recognise students’ work and to make sure they get the grades to progress. This has included setting out details of how this year’s GCSE and A-levels will be awarded and publishing guidance for teachers, students, parents and carers and separate guidance for heads of examination centres. 

At the heart of this, schools, colleges and examination centres will be submitting student predicted grades and their rank order in their cohort (class). The results will be standardised by exam boards before providing the final mark.

With results expected in August or a little earlier, students who get the results they have planned for will be able to get on with their careers and further studies. For those that don’t, there are more uncertain times ahead and they may well have to rethink paths and explore other options, including whether to appeal.

Which exams are covered by the new process?

The regulations only cover the award of GCSEs, A-levels, AS levels, extended project qualifications and advanced extension awards in maths. These qualifications are regulated by Ofqual and offered by exam boards AQA, OCR, Pearson, WGEC Eduqas, ASDAN and City & Guilds.

How will pupils be graded? 

Schools and colleges are being asked to use their professional experience to make ‘a fair and objective’ judgement of the grade they believe a student would have achieved had they sat their exams this year. 

Schools and colleges are being asked to consider the ‘full range’ of available evidence including non-exam assessment, results of any homework assignments or mock exams and ‘any other records’ of student performance over the course of study. Schools and colleges are also being asked to provide the rank order of students within each grade for standardisation purposes.

When will the grades be submitted? 

The deadline will not be earlier than 29 May 2020 and each exam centre will have a window of at least two weeks in which to submit the data.

Will schools and colleges be setting additional work to inform the grades?

There is no requirement for schools and colleges to set additional mock exams or homework tasks. 

What evidence will be submitted to the exam board? 

Schools and colleges do not need to submit any supporting evidence to exam boards such as student work, but they should retain records in case there are any queries about the data. Newly qualified teachers should be supported by their head of department to undertake the grading of students.

Will students know what provisional grade has been submitted?

Students will not see the centre assessment grades that the school or college submits. It is important that schools and colleges do not share provisional grades or rank orders with students or parents before the final results are issued. This is to protect the integrity of the teachers’ judgements and to avoid teachers feeling pressure to submit a grade that is not supported by the evidence.

The grades will have equal status to the grades awarded in other years and are to be treated this way by universities, colleges and employers. 

Students will be able to progress to the next stage of their education and employment with these grades. The Department for Education has discussed this with UCAS and college leaders and they are supportive of the process.

Is there a right of appeal?

This approach to awarding examination grades will allow for an appeal ‘where appropriate’ to ensure students have redress if they feel their grades from the summer do not reflect their ability. 

The Department for Education is consulting on proposals for an effective appeal. In addition, students will have the opportunity to take their exams in autumn 2020 or in summer 2021 if they choose.

What happens if pupils are home educated? 

Where exam centres have accepted private candidates to sit exams at their centre, the pupils will be included within the head of centre’s grading and ranking if the head of centre is confident they have seen sufficient evidence of the student’s achievement to make an objective assessment.

Ofqual is currently exploring whether alternative options are possible for pupils who do not have any education history or relationship with their exam centre and who need results for summer progression. It is unlikely that alternative options to the proposed system will be possible for all external candidates and these candidates may need to take exams in the autumn in order to obtain their grades, putting home educated pupils at a disadvantage.

Further and higher education providers are being asked to consider what alternative steps they could take in terms of their admission decisions for students who do not receive a grade this summer.

It is bad news for early entrants

It is proposed that exam boards will not issue grades for students in year 10 or below because the objective in awarding grades based on school and college judgement is primarily to allow students to progress to the next stage of their education or employment or training.

Equality considerations 

For students who require an agreed reasonable adjustment or access arrangement, schools and colleges will judge the grade they would most likely have achieved had they been able to sit the exam with the intended reasonable adjustment or access arrangement in place. There is stipulation that the adjustment should have already been agreed with the school, college or examination centre. 

You can sit the exams if you really want to... but you will have to wait... 

It is likely that students will be able to sit all their exams in the autumn and Ofqual are developing the details for an autumn exam series.

What happens if you choose to take an autumn exam? Will you still be able to go to university this year?

It is the student’s choice. The student may still choose to take an autumn exam even if their university or college place has been confirmed. It seems that students will need to discuss directly with the higher education institution or FE college whether they start their course as planned or delay their entry. 

Further and higher education providers have been asked to consider how they might be flexible in admission decisions this year, considering, for example, delays to entry on to courses for students choosing to take exams this autumn. It is envisaged that institutions will be flexible wherever possible.

If a student does not feel their grade from the summer reflects their ability, then they have the opportunity to take their exam in the autumn series, or later in summer 2021.  However, if  they choose this option then both grades will stand, according to the current guidance. It remains to be seen whether the consultation on the appeal process changes this.  

Legal issues giving rise to potential challenge are already apparent

The appeal process itself is subject to consultation, however, exam centres have been told they should expect the possible grounds of appeal to be ‘narrow’ and based on the ‘application of the stated process’. Even if you take the option of sitting the exam in autumn 2020, Ofqual has said that both grades will stand. This leaves students with a disputed grade permanently on their education record with a limited right of appeal.

There is an undetermined system in terms of the standardisation process across exam centres. The regulator has said that exam boards will be using statistical methodology in conjunction with Ofqual and that Ofqual is working with technical experts within exam boards and others to develop this model. The model itself will be subject to scrutiny and could be subject to challenge. 

The suggested grade and cohort rank that a student receives may be different to the grade that is awarded. Guidance directed to the heads of centre suggest that this data can be disclosed to students and parents after a period of time, but only after the final results have been issued. Will students have this data available in order to make an appeal? If not, it may affect their prospects of success at appeal.

We are keeping a keen eye out for further details on the appeal process for students. If you require help with an appeal or with the disclosure of your suggested grade and rank, please contact Amara Ahmad at Doyle Clayton’s Education team

The articles published on this website, current at the date of publication, are for reference purposes only. They do not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Specific legal advice about your own circumstances should always be sought separately before taking any action.

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