‘Exam shambles’: mystery as Ofqual removes appeal process

Guidelines for affected students deleted hours after being made public

Sixth-formers protesting against A-level grades
Sixth-formers protesting against A-level grades outside the Department for Education in London
(Image credit: 2020 Getty Images)

Disappointed A-level students in England are facing further uncertainty after the exams regulator published guidance on who could appeal against unexpectedly low grades - only to withdraw the advice hours later.

Or as The Guardian puts it, Ofqual “threatened to plunge the A-level process into further disarray” late on Saturday night, when the watchdog “dramatically suspended its criteria for students hoping to challenge their A-level grades on the basis of their results in mock exams”.

Ofqual officials said that more information would be provided “in due course”, but did not explain the sudden reversal.

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The Department for Education has also failed to shed light on the decision, with a statement issued on Sunday merely stating that Ofqual “continues to consider how to best deliver the appeals process to give schools and pupils the clarity they need”.

Thousands of 18-year-olds are expected to appeal against grades that may prevent them from securing university places.

“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,” Sky News reports.

High-performing students at schools with poor track records appear to have been worst hit.

“The process adopted favours schools with small numbers of students sitting any individual A-level,” explains Paul Johnson, director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, in an article for The Times. “That is, it favours private schools.”

After spending “a large part of the past 72 hours trying to understand what has happened”, Johnson concludes that “the algorithm used makes it almost impossible for students at historically poor-performing sixth forms to get top grades, even if the candidates themselves had an outstanding record at GCSE”.

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Holden Frith is The Week’s digital director. He also makes regular appearances on “The Week Unwrapped”, speaking about subjects as diverse as vaccine development and bionic bomb-sniffing locusts. He joined The Week in 2013, spending five years editing the magazine’s website. Before that, he was deputy digital editor at The Sunday Times. He has also been TheTimes.co.uk’s technology editor and the launch editor of Wired magazine’s UK website. Holden has worked in journalism for nearly two decades, having started his professional career while completing an English literature degree at Cambridge University. He followed that with a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University in Chicago. A keen photographer, he also writes travel features whenever he gets the chance.