England exams regulator Ofqual suspends appeals policy

16 August 2020, 07:46

A-level students have protested against their results
A-level students have protested against their results. Picture: PA

By Maddie Goodfellow

The exams regulator for England has dramatically suspended its criteria for students hoping to challenge their A-level grades on the basis of their results in mock exams.

In a brief statement, Ofqual said the policy was "being reviewed" by its board and that further information would be released "in due course".

No reason for the decision was immediately available.

The move comes just hours after the body published its criteria for mock exam results to be considered as the basis of an appeal.

It threatened to plunge the A-level process into further disarray following an outcry from students after almost 40 per cent of predicted grades were downgraded by the regulator's "moderation" algorithm.

In a statement late on Saturday, an Ofqual spokesman said: "Earlier today we published information about mock exam results in appeals.

"This policy is being reviewed by the Ofqual board and further information will be published in due course."

Labour has accused Education Secretary Gavin Williamson of backtracking on assurances given to students about the appeals process.

Mr Williamson gave a "triple lock" commitment that students could use the highest result out of their teacher's predicted grade, their mock exam or sitting the actual exam in the autumn.

However, in its document, Ofqual said that if the mock result was higher than the teacher's prediction, it was the teacher's prediction which would count.

The regulator said while mock exams did not usually cover the full range of content, the assessments took into account a student's performance across the whole course.

Shadow education secretary Kate Green said: "Gavin Williamson promised to give students a triple lock, but instead he left many devastated by unfair exam results, and now his commitment to give them another chance is rapidly unravelling," she said.

"Having promised that students will be able to use a valid mock result, the reality is that many will not receive these grades even if they represent a student's best result.

"The latest chaos is the inevitable consequence of this Government's shambolic approach to exams, which saw solutions dreamt up on the back of a cigarette packet and announced barely a day before young people received their results."

The latest setback comes as ministers were braced for a fresh backlash when GCSE results for England are announced on Thursday.

Like the A-level results, they will initially be based on teacher assessments and then "moderated" by the Ofqual algorithm to bring them in line with previous years' results.

Mr Williamson has said the process was necessary to prevent "grade inflation" which would render the results worthless after actual exams had to be abandoned due to the coronavirus outbreak.

However critics have complained it has led to thousands of individual injustices, disproportionately penalising students from schools serving disadvantaged communities.

Geoff Barton, general Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said the Qfqual document was "surreal and bureaucratic".

He urged the Government to follow the example of Scotland - where there was a similar outcry - and abandon the moderated results and go back to teacher assessments.

"That would be a better approach than this appeals system as it would mean students would get revised A-level grades immediately on the basis of the teacher assessments already conducted, which draw on the very evidence that is now proposed as part of the appeals process," he said.

"We don't blame Ofqual for the bizarre nature of the appeals criteria. The regulator has been given a hospital pass by a government that is in disarray.

"It is time for ministers to stop the chaos and fall back on teacher-assessed grades rather than prolong this nightmare."

Meanwhile Mr Williamson has defended Ofqual's grading method in a column in the Sunday Express.

He wrote: "No system that was put in place was going to be able to replicate the exams process.

"But the calculated grade overseen by Ofqual makes certain that everyone can be confident that these qualifications carry the same weight as previous years.

"And our triple lock process means if any young person is unhappy with their result, they can appeal on the basis of a valid mock exam and, in England, have the chance to sit exams in the autumn."