Schools ‘should be transparent with pupils on grading decisions to cut appeals’

Schools should share information with GCSE and A-level students about how their grades were reached to cut the number of appeals, exam boards have said.

Pupils should have access to the sources of evidence that will be used to determine their grades, according to the latest guidance from the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) on the appeals process.

It says the transparency should allow pupils to identify any errors and “reduce the number of instances where students request a centre review or awarding organisation appeal once results have been issued.”

School leaders have warned about the “extra burden” being placed on schools and colleges – who are already responsible for submitting grades – as a result of this summer’s appeals process.

But the Department for Education (DfE) has confirmed that funding will be made available to schools and colleges to bring in staff during the summer holiday period to deal with “priority” appeals.

Teachers in England will decide GCSE and A-level grades after this summer’s exams were cancelled for the second year in a row.

This year, teachers will be able to draw on a range of evidence when determining pupils’ grades – including mock exams, coursework and in-class assessments using questions provided by exam boards.

Pupils who want to appeal over their grade must first request that their school or college reviews whether an administrative or procedural error was made.

If the centre rules no error was made, then students can escalate the appeal to the exam boards.

Exam boards will consider whether the grade reflects an “unreasonable exercise of academic judgement”, whether the school followed its procedures properly and consistently in arriving at the student’s result, and whether the exam board made an administrative error.

The JCQ guidance on appeals says “the need for centre reviews and awarding organisation appeals should be reduced” if a school or college shares more information with students.

For example, the sources of evidence that will be used to determine their grade along with (and where deemed appropriate by the school or college) any grades/marks associated with them.

It also calls on the schools to share details of any variations in evidence used based on disruption to what a student was taught and any special circumstances considered in determining their grade.

To view this content, you'll need to update your privacy settings.
Please click here to do so.

The guidance says: “We recommend centres share this information with students before results day. However, if a centre has not been able to share this information before results day, it must be prepared to do so on or after results day if a student requests it.”

But the JCQ guidance stresses that “students must not be told the final Teacher Assessed Grade that has been submitted to the awarding organisation” before results day.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: “As appeals are free and available on demand, there is a risk that schools and colleges may face very significant extra workload at a time when they are already at full stretch.”

He added: “Our main concern over the appeals process is the extra burden it places on schools and colleges after they have already shouldered the responsibility of assessing and submitting grades following the cancellation of public exams.

“While some of the appeals process is being picked up by the exam boards there is still a lot that is being landed on schools and colleges.

“The process entails them having in place systems, resources and staffing from results days onwards in August for priority appeals from students in danger of missing out on university places.”

Mr Barton welcomed the DfE’s commitment to extra funding in August for managing appeals, but he warned that schools have been left to “pick up the pieces in a grading system that has been hastily constructed” after the summer exams were cancelled amid the pandemic.

In its response to a consultation on appeals, England’s exams regulator said there was a “possibility” that appeals may be submitted by pupils who “simply disagree with reasonable decisions” made by schools.

But Ofqual added that “where reasonable decisions have been made such appeals should not succeed.”