Summer Exams Cancelled - appealing calculated grades based on the standardisation model

4 mins

Posted on 14 Aug 2020

We engaged in pre-action correspondence with Ofqual and threatened to commence legal proceedings on the issue of high performing individual students in poor performing schools, on behalf of our clients Michael Bell and his daughter, Lexie.

Lexie was predicted A*/A/A at A Level but attended a school where no student had obtained higher than a B grade in her subjects between 2017 and 2019. Lexie was put at a significant disadvantage simply because of the school she attended and challenged Ofqual’s decision to: 

  • Operate a “statistical standardisation process” in its arrangements for grading this year’s A level examinations, and
  • Not to allow any appeals by students on the operation or outcome of that process, in particular not including an appeal process for ‘outlier’ students like Lexie, given that the standardisation model was flawed.

As a result of our assistance, our clients are now in part responsible for the inclusion of outliers in the appeals process; a last-minute U-turn by Ofqual and the Department for Education.


High achieving student in a less well achieving school can appeal

Before 6 August, Ofqual had explained that a school or college may appeal only on procedural grounds, on the basis that the wrong data was used to calculate results for students, or where there was an administrative error in the issuing of results by an awarding organisation. We challenged this unfairness.

In an Ofqual press release dated 6 August 2020, Ofqual then clarified that appeals could be brought for slightly wider and more substantive reasons than previously, but it remained ambiguous on the issue of individual bright students amongst a cohort of average or low performing students. We continued to press for fairness and clarity for Lexie.

This week we wrote to Ofqual’s solicitors about how schools and colleges should be able to appeal on behalf of individual outlier students. Ofqual’s lawyers responded to say that, contrary to previous guidance, such students now could appeal through their exam centre, confirming - a school will be able to bring an appeal under Condition GQCov5.1(b).” They also explained:

 “Awarding organisations will be making their own arrangements to provide guidance to schools on how their appeals systems will function. We would recommend that if Ms Bell's school has any queries that it needs answered that it contacts the relevant awarding organisations directly.”

Gavin Williamson MP, the Secretary of State for Education, confirmed on LBC Radio that the standardisation process “tends to” disadvantage high-achieving pupils in low-performing schools - and has now said he has asked exam boards to contact these schools, to ask them to mount appeals on those children’s behalf “What we’ve asked the exam boards is, where they think there may be outliers, is actually to be contacting the schools to talk with them to make sure that appeals are put forward.”

Schools should therefore be encouraged to appeal in cases involving academic ‘outliers’ and should await updated guidance from Awarding Organisations and from Ofqual.

Simon Henthorn, Head of Doyle Clayton's Education team said - 

"We were delighted to have supported Michael Bell and his daughter Lexie in successfully challenging Ofqual’s stance on the appeal process for exam results. It is particularly pleasing that the outcome is wide reaching and will help other students like Lexie to secure the grades that they deserve."

Our team 

The Eduction team is lead by Simon Henthorn who is also a a governor of St Stephen’s School in Twickenham. Simon is well known for his work in the education sector, and recommended by Chambers Guide to the UK Legal Profession for being “very easy to deal with” and “very knowledgeable”.

Click here to meet some of the team and here for our Education bulletin.

To find out how we can help you please contact Simon Henthorn at or on +44 (0)20 3696 7172.

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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