Students who want to appeal A-level grades may have to take gap year

Students who want to appeal A-level grades predicted for them by their teachers could be forced to take a gap year before taking cancelled exams, watchdog warns

  • Students unhappy with their teacher- awarded grades may have to take gap year
  • Pupils’ grades will be determined ‘by the professionals who know them best’ 
  • Exam boards will adjust grades if schools are too severe or generous with marks
  • Schools have been shut since March 20 and exam season has been cancelled 
  • Grades will be ‘as valid as ever,’ says Education Secretary Gavin Williamson 

Students who want to appeal against ‘carefully considered’ A-Level grades awarded to them by teachers amid the coronavirus pandemic could be forced to take a gap year before taking tests, the exam watchdog has warned. 

Yesterday, teachers were told to submit ‘fair and carefully considered’ GCSE and A-Level grades for their pupils, in lieu of regular exams.

Schools have been shut since March 20 and the exam season has been cancelled, leaving teachers to decide their pupils’ grades based on classwork and previous results.

Pupils unhappy with their given A-Level grades will be able to take their cancelled exams at the start of the next academic year. 

However, Ofqual, the exam regulator, has admitted that there is no guarantee universities will be able to delay courses to accommodate these students. 

This means they may have to take a gap year, taking the exams next summer instead. 

Exams were called off last month after the coronavirus pandemic put Britain into lockdown. Teachers will now decide their pupils’ grades, but marks could be changed if schools are judged to be too harsh or lenient

Education Secretary Gavin Williams previously reassured students that ‘grades award this summer will be as valid this year as any other’

According to the Telegraph, Ofqual said: ‘Students may still choose to take an exam even where their university or college place has been confirmed. 

‘However, it will take time for the results of these exams to be issued, so they will need to discuss with their higher and further education institution whether to start their course as planned or to delay their entry.’ 

The watchdog has asked universities to be ‘flexible’ with admissions, but added: ‘We recognise this might only be possible in a minority of cases’.

Earlier, the regulator warned it will clamp down on over generous marking and inflated grades. 

How will Ofqual assess each school’s grades?

Schools are being asked to grade their pupils based on key areas such as classwork, previous exam results, attainment and performance for lessons such as PE or dance.

Once those exam results are sent off, Ofqual is going to use a standardisation model to test the results’ validity and make sure schools are not being too harsh or generous.

The model is not complete, but factors expected to be included are: 

  •  Expected national outcomes for this year’s students at A-Level and GCSE
  • Prior attainment of students at each school. This would be year-wide rather than individual
  • The results of the school or college in recent years 

Ofqual says it will not change the order schools rank each student, ‘nor will it assume that the distribution of grades in each subject or centre should be the same.’

Schools have been shut since March 20 and the exam season has been cancelled, leaving teachers to decide their pupils’ grades based on classwork and previous results. 

But any grades deemed too severe or generous will be changed, Ofqual warned, setting out early criteria for a model it will use to judge schools’ decisions.

A statement from England’s exams regulator said: ‘If grading judgements in some schools and colleges appear to be more severe or generous than others, exam boards will adjust the grades of some or all of those students upwards or downwards accordingly.’

Most schools have been shut since March 20, three days before the country went into lockdown to try and slow the spread of coronavirus.

With exam season now looming, many teenagers are concerned about what will happen to their GCSE, AS and A Level results. 

Exam boards will be contacting schools and colleges after Easter to ask them to submit their judgments by a deadline no earlier than May 29.  

To decide their grades, teachers must look through previous exam results, classwork and attainment of each pupil. Schools then have to rank each pupils likelihood of achieving their assigned grade. 

Ofqual is working on a standardisation model to assess each school’s grades, which it expects will look at evidence such as expected national outcomes, the prior attainment of students at each school and college, and the results of the school or college in recent years.

Schools must not share these grades with students and parents until final results are issued. It is hoped pupils will receive their grades before the pre-planned results days in August.

Ofqual chief regulator Sally Collier said: ‘School or college-based assessment already has an important role in many GCSEs, AS and A-levels, and in extraordinary circumstances such as these schools and colleges are best-placed to judge the likely performance of their students at the end of the course.

Sally Collier, Ofqual’s chief regulator, says students have been reassured that their grades will be fair and that cancelled exams will not put them at a disadvantage while head to sixth form or university

‘We have worked closely with the teaching profession to ensure that what we are asking is both appropriate and manageable, so that everyone can have confidence in the approach.’

Pupils previously took to Twitter under the hashtag #SchoolclosuresUK to share their frustrations, with some afraid that poor relationships with teachers could affect their final mark. 

She added: ‘We have published a message to students to reassure them that we, and exam boards, will do everything we can to make sure that, as far as possible, grades are fair and that they are not disadvantaged in their progress to sixth form, college, university, apprenticeships, training or work because of these unprecedented conditions.’

On Friday, Ofqual said teachers’ judgments on grades should take into account a full range of evidence – including classwork, non-exam assessment, mock exams or previous results.  

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), says grades will be ‘determined by the professionals who know them best’

Students will also have the opportunity to sit exams at the earliest opportunity in the new academic year. 

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said: ‘Cancelling this summer’s exams was a necessary step to help fight the spread of coronavirus by asking people to stay home, protect the NHS and save lives.

‘Despite the difficult circumstances we are facing, this guidance provides assurance to students, parents and schools that grades awarded this summer will accurately reflect students’ abilities, and will be as valid this year as any other.’

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), said: ‘Many schools, colleges and their students will have been anxiously awaiting this information and whilst there is not a perfect solution, this is pragmatic and the fairest approach to take in these exceptional circumstances.

‘Of course, this is not a seamless solution. Students will have been expecting to go through a very different process. 

‘However, their grades will now be determined by the professionals who know them best; professionals who are well-equipped to make these judgements, and we hope that gives students confidence that they are in safe hands.

‘Where pupils are not content, appeals are possible and autumn exams are being discussed.’

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