A-level results: ‘it’s a mess’ as exams appeal guidance withdrawn


A-level exam results fury grows as Ofqual suddenly suspends appeals policy

Students are vowing to hold the government to account over the A-level results row as the exams regulator for England suddenly suspended its own policy on exam appeals.

Around 280,000 students saw their grades fall by one grade or more following the introduction of a new algorithm, which was put in place after the coronavirus lockdown led to exams being cancelled.

But students have been left furious by the new system, with many losing their places on their chosen courses after not meeting the required grades.

The exams regulator is reviewing its guidance on how to appeal against A-level and GCSE grades using mock exam results – hours after publishing it.

On Saturday Ofqual set out what constituted a “valid” mock exam for students appealing against A-level results in England.

But the regulator has now suspended those criteria, and further information will be published “in due course”.

One Tory MP described it as a “huge mess” that was “unacceptable”.

Neither A-level nor GCSE students were able to sit public exams this year because of the coronavirus pandemic, and almost 40% of A-level grades were marked down from teachers’ predictions by an Ofqual algorithm.


Ofqual’s algorithm doesn’t really grade the student—it grades the school. Ofqual has disclosed very little about its process, but has very recently let slip that for larger schools, teachers’ predicted grades don’t count at all: “Where a subject has more than 15 entries in a school, teachers’ predicted grades will not be used as part of the final grade calculation.” In practice, then, what matters is the school’s prior results. Millions of kids’ life chances hang on a statistical estimate based on their school’s previous performance compared to other schools.

The algorithm which determined the life chances of millions of English students by ‘estimating’ their GCSE and A-level results for this year risks being challenged in the courts unless the government acts swiftly to address concerns.

Curtis Parfitt-Ford, an A-level student at a comprehensive school in Ealing, supported by tech-justice group Foxglove, has demanded that Ofqual correct defects in its grading algorithm or potentially be taken to court.

In the wake of Covid, for the first time in history, A-level and GCSE students in England have been assessed not on their individual performance, but by an algorithm.

Class divide determined the results

Ofqual’s own figures showed that pupils at independent schools received double the improvement in A* and A grades compared with those attending state comprehensives, while sixth-form colleges received only a tiny improvement.

survey of principals conducted by the Sixth Form Colleges Association found “huge variations” between the exam grades predicted by teachers – known as centre-assessed grades – and the final grades students received from Ofqual.

“While 39.1% of centre assessment grades were adjusted down by one or more grade overall, we are hearing from a number of colleges that over 50% of their grades have been adjusted downwards. Colleges with large cohorts and very stable and predictable results over time are seeing their lowest grade profile ever, particularly at the higher grades, A to C,” said the Association of Colleges chief executive, David Hughes.


Hughes warned of “systemic bias” because on average more disadvantaged students attend further education colleges.

“At a minimum, the government must ensure that there is a free appeal system open to any people on academic grounds,” Parfitt-Ford said. He urged the government to stick with the grades teachers had given their pupils.

“Given the government’s decided to use mock exam results, the government should trust teachers because the teachers are the ones that set those mocks and who marked those mocks.”


The Conservative chairman of the education select committee, Robert Halfon, said the decision to review appeals guidance only announced on Saturday left students and schools in confusion.

“That is a huge mess. Goodness knows what is going on at Ofqual. It is the last thing we need at this time. This is just unacceptable in my view,” he said.

“Students and teachers are incredibly anxious – particularly the students who are worried about their future. This has got to be sorted out.

“Ofqual shouldn’t put things on websites, take them away, sow confusion. This is just not on and it has got to be changed.”

Meanwhile, the statistical model used by Ofqual to determine grades faces two legal challenges, which argue students were unfairly judged on the school they attend.

And shadow education secretary Kate Green MP, said: “The Tories’ results fiasco is turning from tragedy to farce, and the chaos and incompetence is completely unacceptable when so many students and families have been devastated by it.”

She added that the algorithm and system in place “has completely failed”.

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

He had promised a “triple lock” commitment for students to get the highest result out of their given grade, their mock exam or sitting the actual exam in the autumn.

But in its original guidance Ofqual had 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.

Ms 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.”

Noor Abdin (left) and Safaa Badar said they were left angry by the exam result row
Image:Noor Abdain (left) and Safaa Badar said they were left angry by the exam result row

Many youngsters gathered in London’s Hyde Park on Saturday for another day of protests and more demonstrations are expected later today.

Safaa Badar, who saw two of her A-level grades fall under the new system, warned the government that students won’t vote for the Conservatives at the next election due to the impact the controversy has had on their futures.

She told Sky News: “I hope they consider the fact that we are the next voters, we’ve now turned 18, absolutely the government will be scrutinised, they will be held accountable for their actions.

“In no way we will be tolerating this… the entire situation is chaos.”

Her friend Noor Abdain added: “The system the government used for this has completely disregarded our abilities and everything we’ve been working towards for the last two years.

“This is not what we deserve and the government needs to come up with a better system. They’ve not considered at all what this is going to do too many young people going into society, we’re the next generation.”

Ofqual said earlier on Saturday that, where a written mock exam was not taken, it would consider other teacher assessments instead.

However, a statement published late on Saturday night on the regulator’s website read: “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.”

Hundreds of students have held a demonstration in central London, demanding clarify over the appeals procedure.

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