Concerned about your grades: A Meaby & Co Solicitors student guide to challenging the A-Level and GCSE Results

Despite most exams and assessments being cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, most students will still receive their grades within the next week. The Government has recently announced that students will be able to select their predicted grades should they be unhappy with the grades received on results day. However, there may well be students wishing to challenge their results.

How examination grades were decided

Teachers have spent the past few months using their professional judgement to consider a range of evidence to produce centre assessment grades (the grades) that students were likely to have received had the exams taken place. Teachers were then asked to provide rank order positions of students based on who they felt was more secure in achieving those grades. The grades and rank order positioning for each student were then sent to the exam boards for each subject. To ensure standards are aligned across schools and colleges, all grades were standardised by the exam boards using a model developed by Ofqual.

Can a student appeal their grade?

If a student has concerns about how their grade was decided, the first step would be to discuss this matter with the school or college about what options are available.

A student would not be able to challenge the school or college under the appeals process on the grades that were submitted to the exam board or their rank order position. However, a student can ask their school or college to check whether it made a mistake when it submitted the grades or the student’s rank order positioning. If the school or college found that it made a mistake in the data it provided to the exam board, it can ask the exam board to correct it.

A school or college can appeal to the exam board on a student’s behalf if it believes the exam board used the wrong data when it calculated the grades or made a mistake in the communication of the grades. Further a school or college can appeal to the exam board if it believes the historical data used for the standardisation process was not a reliable basis for predicting the 2020 results. Ofqual have provided a number of examples of where this may be the case, for example, where “there’s been a substantial change in the demographic make-up of the centre, for example if a single-sex school has changed to co-educational”.

Making a complaint about bias, discrimination or malpractice/maladministration

As a starting point, schools and colleges are required to comply with the equality legislation when providing grades and rank order positioning.

A student is not able to appeal because they disagree with the grades or rank order submitted by the school or college. However, a student may be concerned that the school or college have unfairly or incorrectly submitted the grades or the rank order which were influenced by factors other than academic performance.

If bias or discrimination affected the grades or rank order positioning, this could form the basis of malpractice or maladministration. If a student believes they have been impacted by malpractice or maladministration, in the first instance, they should discuss this with the school or college and raise a complaint using the complaints policy.

If a student believes the school or college have not adequately dealt with this complaint, a student can raise their concerns about malpractice and maladministration with the exam board which issued the results. It should be noted that this complaint would not be an appeal but rather an allegation against the school or college that malpractice or maladministration occurred.

A student should be prepared to explain exactly why they believe malpractice or maladministration has taken place and be able to produce as much evidence as possible to support that position. Ofqual have made it clear that for a case to be considered, a student will need to show something “specific” or something “surprising” which calls for an explanation that the school or college have been unable to give.

If the exam board believe there is a reasonable basis to suspect malpractice or maladministration in relation to a student’s grade or rank order position, it will carry out an investigation to gather evidence to assess what has happened. If the exam board thinks there has been malpractice or maladministration, the exam board will reconsider the results that were reissued and assess whether they should be changed.

Should you require any assistance in raising an academic appeal, letter of complaint or allegation, please do not hesitate to contact Pranav Bhanot or Aileigh Brough in the litigation team at Meaby&Co Solicitors on 020 7 703 5034.