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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 10 August 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 teacher 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 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.

Priority appeals (i.e. for students applying to higher education who did not attain their first choice and wish to appeal an A level or other Level 3 qualification result)

The JCQ guidance recommends that requests for centre reviews are made by 16 August 2021. This is to enable:

  • the school to conduct the centre review
  • the school to report the outcome to the student
  • the student to submit their request for an appeal to the school
  • the school to submit the appeal to the awarding organisation
  • by 23 August 2021.

    Priority appeals that are not submitted by 23 August will still be treated as a priority and awarding organisations will endeavour to process them promptly. However, appeals not submitted by 23 August may not be completed in time for those students applying to higher education so may result in the student not securing their preferred place.

    Non-priority appeals (i.e. for all other appeals)

    The JCQ guidance recommends that requests for centre reviews are made by 3 September. This is to enable:

    • the centre to conduct the centre review
    • the centre to report the outcome to the student
    • the student to submit their request for an appeal to the school
    • the school to submit the appeal to the awarding organisation
    • by 17 September 2021.
  • Unfortunately, there is no final cut-off date in the JCQ Appeals Guidance for a request for a centre review. We would recommend that your grade appeals policy includes a statement that requests for centre reviews received after 3 September will only be accepted where there are clear reasons for the delay.

    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.

    The template student request and consent form at Appendix B of the JCQ Appeals Guidance requires the signature of the student. The guidance further requires that any alternative request and consent form includes space for the student to sign to confirm they consent to the fact that their grade may be raised, stay the same or be lowered as a result of the review. There is nothing explicitly to prevent an electronic signature from being accepted, provided that the school is confident that their systems are secure, and it is the student making the request and not another person acting without their authority.

    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.

    An appeal can only be made against a result issued, on the grounds of a procedural or administrative error or that a grade awarded reflects an unreasonable exercise of academic judgement. Where a student is unhappy that a grade was not submitted in a subject because of insufficient evidence, it should be raised as a complaint through the school’s complaints procedure. There may also be other matters indirectly related to the awarding of results where the complaints procedure should be used, for example, how a member of staff spoke to a student on results day. Your appeals policy should make it clear that where a student has made an appeal through the review and appeal process, they will not be able to make an additional complaint on the same matters under the school’s own complaints 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.

    Paragraph 6.3 of the JCQ Appeals Guidance states that: “All requests for an appeal must be made directly to the centre which submitted the grade and must be received by the awarding organisation by:

    • 23 August 2021 for priority appeals (for students applying to higher education who did not attain their firm choice, i.e. the offer they accepted as their first choice, and wish to appeal an A level or other Level 3 qualification result), or by
    • 17 September 2021 for non-priority appeals”.

    It would be for an awarding organisation to determine whether to accept a request for an appeal after this date.

    The JCQ Appeals Guidance includes a checklist of evidence that schools will need to submit to the awarding organisation in the event of a student appeal (Appendix C). Paragraph 6.14 of the guidance also includes a further list of the requirements for each ground of appeal.

    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.

    Yes, SARs are requests for personal data belonging to the requestor or someone they have authority to be acting on behalf of when making the request. A FOI request can be made by anyone for any information held by the setting.

    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 to the world at large. You should consider if any exemptions are relevant and seek advice in respect of the appropriateness of their application.

    Exemptions can be applied e.g. where an FOI request seeks personal data to be disclosed, or the request is excessive. For SARs this is less likely for the requestor’s personal data, but you would need to ensure you are not sharing the data of anyone who has not consented. You should seek legal advice if you consider an exemption should be applied but are unsure. If a requestor feels you have not complied with their request, or does not agree with any exemption applied, they may, following a second stage through your setting, refer the matter to the Information Commissioner’s Office.

    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.

    Examination scripts can be exempted from a request. Whether you provide it will be for you to decide based on the school’s usual practice. If papers are usually returned, then you should treat all students equally. If you do not usually return scripts, there is an exemption for scripts in respect of the student’s answers. However, the comments of an assessor would be disclosable.

    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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