Appeals over grades should be made to exam boards rather than schools – unions

Eleanor Busby, PA Education Correspondent

Appeals over grades should be handled by exam boards rather than schools and colleges, a coalition of education unions and professional bodies has said.

Organisations representing school and college leaders, governors and teachers have established a set of principles to ensure students are assessed fairly following the cancellation of GCSE and A-level exams in England.

It comes after a consultation by Ofqual and the Department for Education (DfE), on how students will be awarded grades after this summer’s exams were cancelled, closed last week.

Under the proposals, students will be assessed by their teachers during the period from May into early June and then school staff will submit their grades to the exam boards ahead of results day.

Students who believe their teachers made an error when they assessed their performance can appeal their grades to their school or college.

Under the plans, students will be able to appeal further to the exam board on the grounds the school or college had not acted in line with the exam board’s procedural requirements “either when assessing the standard at which the student was performing or when considering the student’s appeal”.

However, a group of education unions is calling for these appeals to be made directly to exam boards, rather than to schools or colleges, as the awarding organisations “retain responsibility for issuing grades”.

The joint statement is from the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), the NAHT school leaders’ union, the National Education Union (NEU), the NASUWT teachers’ union, the Association of Colleges (AoC) and the National Governance Association (NGA).

It says: “They should only issue grades when they are confident the grades are reliable and valid. Appeals should therefore be made directly to awarding organisations, as the responsible bodies.”

The consultation from Ofqual acknowledges the proposals over appeals “would place additional burden” on teachers and exam boards, but says it is “necessary to secure confidence” in the process.

The grading of students became a fiasco last summer when exams were cancelled amid school closures.

Thousands of A-level students had their results downgraded from school estimates by a controversial algorithm before Ofqual announced a U-turn, allowing them to use teachers’ predictions.

The coalition is calling on exam boards to set out what standard is required for students to achieve each grade and for these standards to recognise that students may have studied less of the course than usual due to the pandemic.

Students should be able to demonstrate a standard of work in the content they have been taught and the standards should be consistent across all exam boards, they say.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of ASCL, said: “It is imperative that students are assessed as fairly and consistently as possible following the cancellation of exams and that we avoid any repeat of the chaos of last summer.

“We believe that the principles we have jointly set out will give us the best chance of achieving that objective.”

Dr Patrick Roach, general secretary of the NASUWT, said: “The impact of this pandemic has resulted in entirely unprecedented pressures on teachers and school and college leaders.

“Therefore, it is imperative that the solution for qualifications this summer takes full account of the extraordinary conditions in which school and college staff are working by avoiding the addition of excessive and unnecessary workload burdens on teachers and leaders.”

An Ofqual spokesman said: “We are grateful to the unions, who have engaged with us constructively over recent weeks and months.

“We will say more about the outcome of our recent joint consultation and how we intend to proceed when we set out our next steps later this month.”

A DfE spokeswoman said: “Fairness to young people has been and will continue to be fundamental to every decision we take on these issues.

“We know how important this is to teachers, parents and students, which is why we have made sure everyone is able to have their say in our exams consultation.

“The consultation closed with over 100,000 responses, making it the department’s largest ever.

“We are working closely with the sector and Ofqual to take all these views into account and make sure young people can receive a grade that reflects their hard work and enables them to progress.”

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