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Grades without exams - FAQs

30 March 2021

Please note: the information contained in this legal update is updated regularly and is correct as at 30 June 2021. The advice also specifically relates to Ofqual regulated qualifications only.

In the absence of exams, the Department for Education (DfE) and Ofqual have confirmed that the 2021 GCSE, AS and A-level and vocational and technical qualification grades will be determined by centre assessment. In response to the many questions we have received so far on this matter, we’ve set out some answers to some of the most commonly asked questions below.

Should you wish to discuss a particular matter or situation with our team of experts please do not hesitate to get in touch.

Procedural and administrative errors

If an error is identified before results day then you should contact the relevant awarding organisation so that the error can be rectified. You can confirm to the student that appropriate steps have been taken to rectify the error but must not share information about any new grade until results day.

If it is not possible for the awarding organisation to correct the error before results day then you will need to inform the student when they receive their results that an error has been identified and reported to the awarding organisation to be corrected and what impact this is likely to have on the grade.

If an error comes to light as part of a centre review then you should request that the grade is corrected by the awarding organisation.

If an error is identified regarding the grade of a student who has not submitted a centre review request, then you will need to consider the impact of amending the grade before requesting that the awarding organisation does so. The JCQ has set out relevant considerations at Appendix D of its Appeals Guidance.

Managing centre reviews

Centres must have a clearly documented process outlining their arrangements for conducting centre reviews and submitting appeals to the awarding organisation. The process should be communicated clearly to students in advance of results day.

Given that the students being assessed this year will be in Year 9 or above (and therefore they are deemed to have legal capacity), any requests relating to their personal data and academic performance should ideally be received from them, as it relates to their personal data. The template student request and consent form at Appendix B of the JCQ Appeals Guidance requires the signature of the student. There is nothing, however, to prevent a student from asking their parent or another person to manage the request on their behalf.

When considering appeals based on administrative or procedural errors, centres are directed by the JCQ guidance to consider:

  • the reason presented by the student for the review
  • any evidence provided by the student regarding issues that were not known about at the time the grade was determined
  • the centre’s approved policy and whether it was followed properly and consistently
  • the evidence which was used to determine the student’s grade
  • any relevant assessment records detailing any amendments to the range of evidence used for the cohort and steps taken to address any known mitigating circumstances/special consideration or approved access arrangements/reasonable adjustments (where applicable)
  • a record that the grades were signed off by at least two teachers in the subject, one of whom was the head of department/subject lead or Head of Centre (where there was only one teacher in the department/subject)
  • the record, where it exists, of any relevant pre-results communications between the centre and student
  • relevant centre administration records

If a procedural or administrative error is identified, then you will need to consider whether the error actually affected the submitted grade.

Priority appeals (for students applying to higher education who did not attain the offer they accepted as their first choice and wish to appeal an A-level/Level 3 result) must be received by the awarding organisation by 23 August 2021. A centre review will need to have been undertaken and the outcome confirmed to the student in advance of this date. In view of the very short timeframes and turnaround, it is vital that centres ensure that there are sufficient staff available who are able to conduct any centre reviews received.

A request for a centre review based on an administrative error, such as the incorrect transposing of marks from a piece of evidence, should be relatively easy to identify and respond to. However, procedural failures are likely to be more nuanced. Examples in the JCQ Appeals Guidance of the types of procedural failures a student may raise include:

  • the existence and consideration of mitigating circumstances at the time of an assessment
  • the provision of agreed access arrangements/reasonable adjustments for an assessment
  • the process for determining and quality assuring grades e.g. internal standardisation or the authentication of student work.

In practice, given the nature of these, it is likely that the input of senior staff or subject-specific staff will be needed as part of this process.

Information must be provided to students on the arrangements in place for conducting centre reviews and submitting appeals to the awarding organisation.

If a centre review request is received, then that request should be acknowledged. The outcome of the centre review should be communicated to students and must set out:

  • whether or not the review found a procedural failure or administrative error
  • if it did, what that error was
  • the reason for the finding
  • whether there was a grade change and, if so, what the new grade is
  • a reason for the grade change or lack of change
  • information on the next steps if a student wishes to submit an appeal to the awarding organisation.

Student challenges based on the unreasonable exercise of academic judgement (either in the choice of evidence or the determination of the grade) can only be made to an awarding organisation. You should still carry out a centre review to ensure that no procedural or administrative errors have been made and communicate the outcome of this review to the student.

It is worth highlighting the process for challenging academic judgements made by the school in the initial letter to students about evidence and process, as well as in your appeals policy.

Awarding organisation appeals

Information must be provided to students on the arrangements in place for conducting centre reviews and submitting appeals to the awarding organisation.

If the student requests that an appeal is submitted to the awarding organisation, then the school must confirm to the student that it has done so. The centre must share the outcome of the awarding organisation appeal and, where appropriate, the next stage of the process promptly with the student.

Appeals are submitted to the awarding organisation by the centre on the student’s behalf. It is the centre that is responsible for ensuring that the awarding organisation has the information it needs to understand, and make a decision on, the grounds of the appeal being made and to have a named contact who is able to respond to any awarding organisation queries.

The JCQ Appeals Guidance requires a named contact at the centre with whom the awarding organisation can liaise should further information be needed before the appeal can be progressed. In view of the very short timeframes and turnaround of centre reviews and submission of awarding organisation appeals, you will need to plan for sufficient staff to be available who can support this named individual as required.

In practice, given the nature of the appeal grounds, it is likely that the input of senior staff or subject-specific staff will be needed as part of this process.

Information sharing

Yes, all final teacher assessed grades must be kept confidential until results day. Providing a grade to a student before results day will be viewed as malpractice.

Given that the students being assessed this year will be in Year 9 or above (and therefore they are deemed to have legal capacity), any requests relating to their personal data and academic performance should ideally be received from them, as it relates to their personal data.

However, there is nothing to prevent a student from asking their parent or another person to make the request on their behalf. Where the student is not making the request themselves, you should check that they consent to their personal data being shared with the other individual before responding to a request.

No, you must respond within one calendar month. Therefore, you should have a procedure in place to ensure that if a subject access request comes in at the beginning of August, the school is able to deal with it. If you receive a lot of requests, it is important to keep requesters up to date on when they can expect a response, bearing in mind the potential difficulty for schools in handling requests over the summer period.

As examination grades are published at a later date, the timeframes for responding to a very specific request for personal data in relation to these are different to the usual one-month rule.

The timeframe for a response prior to the release of examination grades is whichever is the earliest of the following:

  • within five months of the date of the request; or
  • within 40 days from when the results are published.

No alterations have been made to the time in which an FOI request must be responded to in relation to this year’s gradings. Therefore, you should respond to all FOIs within 20 school days (this excludes weekends and days when the school is closed, e.g. holidays or inset days). Before responding to an FOI request, you should consider if the request is for any personal data, as a response to an FOI request effectively means publishing the requested information within the world at large. You should consider if any exemptions are relevant and seek advice in respect of the appropriateness of their application.

The JCQ Guidance suggests that the following information is shared with students before results day:

  • the sources of evidence used to determine the grade along with any grades/marks associated with them
  • the centre policy and any supporting documentation
  • details of any variations in evidence used based on disruption to what a student
  • was taught
  • details of any special circumstances that have been considered in determining the grade, e.g. access arrangements/reasonable adjustments or mitigating circumstances such as illness.

Information must also be provided on the arrangements in place for conducting centre reviews and submitting appeals to the awarding organisation following a centre review.

Equality and diversity

The avenue and process for any claim would depend on what it related to and who it was targeted at. The student (and/or a parent/carer on their behalf) would potentially be able to make a disability discrimination claim if they felt that reasonable adjustments had not been made or the grade or process for awarding it was in some way unfavourable because of the student’s disability.

If this was against a maintained school or academy, the claim would need to be made within six months and to the First-Tier Tribunal (FTT). Theoretically speaking, the FTT can make any order, apart from a financial order, but it is yet to be seen whether the FTT would want to seek to substitute academic judgements, even if discrimination was found.

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The content on this page is provided for the purposes of general interest and information. It contains only brief summaries of aspects of the subject matter and does not provide comprehensive statements of the law. It does not constitute legal advice and does not provide a substitute for it.

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