Ofqual has since issued new and revised guidance to reflect the u-turn, including its Summary guidance on appeals, malpractice and maladministration complaints for GCSE, AS and A level grades in England published on 26 August 2020, which has answered some key questions.
Essentially, the arrangements for appeals and challenges have not changed in themselves, but what is clear is that schools are likely to receive a greater number of enquiries and complaints about CAGs, with appeal routes based on errors by awarding bodies being largely redundant now.
We have already received a number of enquiries from schools about how they should manage parent and pupil dissatisfaction with CAGs, and we feel it is helpful and timely to explore this again now.
If pupils and/or parents are unhappy with their CAGs, or have a question about them, they must generally raise these matters with the school in the first instance. This is likely to invoke one or more of five procedures, as follows:
There will clearly be an overlap between these processes, but it will be important that these tasks are not conflated and the right person is allocated the role and carries it out appropriately. For example, where a member of the Senior Leadership Team is tasked with an accuracy check or the review of a decision not to appeal, it is important that they are able to recognise information provided by the parent/pupil which amounts to a complaint, and possibly alleged malpractice, and make an appropriate referral.
Only one of the original three appeal grounds will apply to CAGs - the 'wrong data' ground. That ground is now limited to 'incorrect centre information' and it is worth noting the Ofqual guidance on this very narrow right of appeal, which says:
"It is particularly important this summer that awarding organisations are able promptly to distinguish between genuine errors, which might characteristically be administrative mistakes such as transposing digits or confusing Learners with similar names, and attempts to amend Centre Assessment Grades or rank order information by revisiting or revising the professional judgments which underpin them, which is not permitted."
If there aren't any grounds for an appeal, a pupil's CAG can only be changed following a finding of malpractice (including maladministration) against the school by the relevant awarding body. Such a finding is also likely to lead to sanctions for staff or the school itself.
The Ofqual guidance states that awarding bodies should treat evidence of any of the following as potential malpractice:
Where these issues are raised directly or indirectly with the school, schools should bear in mind their obligations both to parents in respect of parental complaints, and schools' duties as examination centres to immediately report alleged or suspected malpractice to the relevant awarding body.
As in many cases allegations may be made in vague and/or speculative terms, and given the serious implications of a malpractice report, we recommend schools seek clarity from awarding bodies over whether and when a formal report should be made and, if not immediately, whether the awarding body is content for the school to deal with the matter though its published Complaints Policy.
Schools should note that failing to report alleged or suspected malpractice, and failing to follow instructions thereafter, is in itself malpractice.
There is a long history of legal precedent insulating professional judgments from challenge, and the exceptional arrangements have addressed this issue unequivocally. The professional judgments of schools and their staff in calculating grades remain protected through these arrangements. Unless there is a data error or malpractice, complaints lodged by parents and/or pupils can have no bearing on CAGs.
We would recommend that schools are cautious in how they approach parent or pupil queries or concerns, and that they do not invite challenges based on any difference of perspective. Parents and pupils are not better placed to make these professional judgments, and schools are obliged to stand by them in spite of any sense of disappointment or injustice which may be felt. Care should be taken to manage expectations from an early stage, and it is likely to be helpful in many cases to direct parents and pupils to Ofqual's Student guide to appeals, malpractice & maladministration complaints Summer 2020 - What to do if you have concerns or questions about your grades which explains in clear terms their limited rights of redress.
Schools should also remember that, even if one teacher would have determined a different CAG than a colleague based on the same evidence, unless that colleague has failed to act with due care or integrity, the CAG cannot be changed. Any attempt to do so could be viewed as malpractice because your Head of Centre has already certified the accuracy of the CAG submitted.
In respect of SARs, it is likely that these will continue to be used by pupils who are unhappy with their CAG and are looking to pursue an appeal and/or complaint. Our advice remains the same in relation to the release of this material, regardless of purpose: