Students in England will be able to use coursework as well as their mock exam results to appeal the grades they were awarded after exams were cancelled due coronavirus, Ofqual has said.
In an eleventh-hour intervention ahead of A-level results day, education secretary Gavin Williamson on Wednesday pledged that students could use mock results to progress to jobs and higher education if these were higher than their awarded grades, but that schools would have to prove the mocks were valid exams.
After days of Tory MPs floundering to explain how this would work in practice, Ofqual published details of the criteria necessary for a successful GCSE, AS or A-level appeal on Saturday night, announcing that appeals using mock results could begin from Monday.
Students will be able to challenge their given grade if it was lower than marks they received in mock exams. The new guidance sets out eight criteria mock exams must meet to be considered “valid” under the appeals process, including if it was sat under exam conditions and covered content normally assessed.
Ofqual has also said non-exam assessments could also be considered. This means recordings of performances by drama students, art work by arts students and practical projects by technology students could form part of any appeal.
But critics branded the system a “face-saving exercise”, after the government watchdog’s algorithm downgraded nearly 40 per cent of results from the marks suggested by teachers, sparking protests and calls for Mr Williamson’s resignation.
And Labour accused the education secretary of backtracking on his “triple-lock” pledge, as Ofqual revealed that students would not be able to use their mock results as the basis for an appeal if they were lower than their teacher’s assessments.
“We want to make sure this opportunity is available to a wide range of students, including those who had not taken a written mock exam before schools and colleges closed,” Ofqual said.
“We will therefore allow a non-exam assessment mark to be used too. Successful appeals on this ground will allow the student to receive the mock grade.”
The regulator added: “The arrangements in place this summer are the fairest possible in the absence of exams, however any process for calculating grades will inevitably produce some results which need to be queried.”
However, Association of School and College Leaders general secretary, Geoff Barton, said the whole appeals process had become so “surreal and bureaucratic” it should be abandoned altogether.
“This is clearly a face-saving exercise by a government which has said that it won’t do a U-turn on its pledge that moderated grades will stand, come what may,” he said.
“Instead, it is attempting to remedy the grading fiasco through an appeals process so surreal and bureaucratic that it would be better off at this point doing that U-turn and allowing original teacher-assessed grades, where they are higher, to replace moderated grades.”
It came after Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon ceded to pressure this week to allow pupils to use teachers’ recommended grades.
The move prompted bold attacks from an under-fire Mr Williamson, who alleged that Holyrood’s “rampant grade inflation ... degrades every single grade as a result and in-bakes unfairness”.
As demonstrators gathered outside Downing Street for a second day of protest on Saturday, one placard accused the education secretary of being “promoted beyond competence” – echoing his defence of downgrading pupils lest they be “over-promoted” into jobs beyond their abilities.
Hundreds of pupils gathered at Hyde Park’s Speakers’ Corner to hear pupils speak about how they had been affected, as the organiser called on the government to follow Scotland’s lead.
“There’s no reason why [the government] can’t click their fingers tomorrow and say, ‘schools should email all the centre assessed grades to universities, and they should accept those’,” said 18-year-old Ophelia Gregory, from Kent.
“The appeals process could take weeks and weeks and weeks, to the point where people have already missed their places. The deadline for Oxbridge, as it is for most universities, is 31 August because they’ve got to get their courses ready and know who is going.”
Meanwhile, shadow education secretary Kate Green said that Ofqual’s guidance indicated that Mr Williamson was back-tracking on his “triple lock” promise that students could use the highest result out of their calculated grade, their mock grade or actually sitting the exam in the autumn.
“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 protests came as education minister Nick Gibb was confronted live on-air with the charge that “you have ruined my life”, after Nina Bunting Mitcham, from Peterborough, missed out on a place at a top veterinary school after her suggested grades of AAB were reduced to three D grades.
“It won’t ruin your life, it will be sorted I can assure you,” Mr Gibb replied on BBC Radio 4. ”The trouble with these models – when you have a model that standardises grades across the country there will be imperfections in it.”
It is misleading to describe the the process as a “downgrading”, DfE officials insisted, saying instead that slashed results had been “standardised” in a model widely consulted on by teachers and unions.
The bloggers also flagged the “claim” that “the standardisation model disproportionately affects pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds” as misleading – despite admitting that disadvantaged pupils were more likely to have seen their pass grades reduced by the government system.
“Although these do indicate that pupils from lower socio economic backgrounds are slightly more likely to have a difference between the grade proposed by their teachers their final grades at C and above, the difference is small and at A* and A pupils from lower socio economic groups were actually less likely to have their teacher grade adjusted,” they wrote.
Additional reporting by PA