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Public Exams 2020 - Top Tips for Schools Navigating Exam Results

on Wednesday, 12 August 2020.

With the impending release of the A level and GCSE public exam results, we reflect on some of the practical steps that academies and schools (referred to collectively here as 'schools') may need to take over the coming days and weeks.

We have called these steps our 'Top 10 Tips' which are designed to give you some brief general pointers. We hope that you will find these timely. Do remember that developments will undoubtedly continue to take account of the Government's 'Triple Lock Process' announcement, which will allow students to receive the higher result from either their calculated grade, valid mock examination grade, or autumn exam grade.

1. Keep on Top of Latest Developments from Ofqual and the DfE

Due to the pace of change, we strongly recommend that you continue to visit the Ofqual and DfE websites for details on further announcements. This has been a fast moving arena with several updates from Ofqual along the way. Read the latest updated guidance from Ofqual.

The latest updates include more detail on:

  • outcome of summer symposium
  • appeals
  • 2021 arrangements
  • further details on the autumn series of public exams, including timing, see Responsibility for Autumn Exams

The Government has asked Ofqual to consider how and when valid mock results can be used to calculate grades. Similar arrangements will apply to vocational and technical qualifications, so watch this space.

2. Have Key Staff Been Trained to Support Students and Families With Appeals?  

Key staff should be fully conversant and consistent with the information that Ofqual has published for students and their families. This information is likely to be amended imminently (see above).

Schools’ professional judgements concerning centre assessed grades (CAG) or rank order (RO) cannot be appealed. Students who are unhappy with their final exam results can choose to sit an exam in Autumn 2020.  Students may also want to consider the mock exam result under the Triple Lock Process if it turns out to be their highest grade.

Students can ask the school to check whether it made a mistake when submitting their CAG or RO. If the school finds it made a mistake in the data it provided, it can ask the exam board to correct it.

Ofqual has confirmed that the following avenues of 'appeal' will be available:

  • Where a school has evidence that:
  • a procedural error has been made by the awarding body
  • the wrong data has been used by the awarding body when calculating grades (eg the historical data used for standardisation was not a reliable basis for predicting 2020 exam results)
  • an awarding body made a mistake when assigning or communicating a grade

the school will appeal to the examination board on the student/s behalf.

Schools must have a procedure which allows students to request a review of any school decision not to seek relevant information or to appeal to an awarding body.

  • A student who has concerns about bias or discrimination should raise this with their school via the complaints procedure, but may also raise it with the awarding body directly in appropriate cases.

NB - Evidence of bias will be investigated as malpractice, which will be subject to discrete awarding body procedures and arrangements for making any necessary grade adjustment.

Students can also ask your school to check whether it made a mistake when submitting the centre assessment grade(s) or the student(s) position in the rank order(s). If it finds it made a mistake in the data it provided, it can ask the exam board to correct it.

We now know that students may ask their school to provide evidence of mock exam results to the exam board.

3. Decide Your School's Strategy for the Release of Centre Assessed Grades (CAG) and Rank Order (RO) Results

We are seeing schools taking different approaches to the release of CAG and RO results. Some have considered that proactivity may be effective where the exam board's process of standardisation has led to a reduction of the overall subject grade. However, there are data protection considerations when the RO will reveal information about others (eg, if it is possible to work out the RO of other students).

4. Be Ready to Respond to Subject Access and Freedom of Information Requests

A request by a student for their personal data (eg CAG and RO) is a subject access request (SAR) and will need to be handled appropriately in accordance with the GDPR and Data Protection Act 2018. SARs must be responded to within one calendar month, but ideally sooner if the information requested is limited.

The purpose for which they are requested should be carefully considered (although this is not relevant to the validity of the SAR), so that the school may make all efforts to work with the student and their family to resolve any issues. Student's reasons for making the SAR might include:

  • evidence of bias or discrimination for a complaint
  • to review whether it is worth sitting a public exam later in year
  • as part of general dissatisfaction with School

If your school is caught by the Freedom of Information Act 2000, you may also receive requests for information, such as, the protocols and procedures used.

Our information law specialists would be pleased to assist.

5. Plan Ahead to Cover the Various Tasks and Responsibilities

A brief checklist to consider:

  • Requests for accuracy checks – who will deal with them, when and how?
  • Requests for information about the mock exam results - who will look into these requests?
  • Appeals of decisions to not appeal – who will make the initial decision, who will decide the appeal, when and how?
  • Complaints of bias – investigation, decision, when and how to be conducted?
  • Other related complaints – timeliness is a key risk management tool.
  • Likely to start with requests for CAG and rank – consider SARs.

6. Consider the Evidence the School Will Request from the Examinations Boards

There is new statutory guidance for exam boards about the release of information to exam centres (schools and colleges), to help them decide whether to make an exam appeal on behalf of a student. We recommend that you read it carefully.

7. Prepare for Potential Complaints - Bias or Discrimination

Students and their families will need to be directed to the formal stages of the school's published Complaints Policy.

The formal stage of the procedure (usually Stage 2), provides for complaints to be made in writing to the Headteacher. As the Head of Centre (usually the Headteacher) will have signed the CAGs and ROs as accurate, they will be precluded from investigating or determining the formal stage of the complaints. You should consider whether there is a suitable Executive Headteacher/Principal, CEO or Governor to fulfil this role. It would not usually be appropriate for someone below the post of Headteacher to investigate/review matters the Headteacher signed off on.

If matters are not resolved, a Complaint Panel Hearing (CPH) may be requested. Practically, if possible, the timing should take account of the deadline for satisfying universities of meeting offer requirements (7 September); deadlines for appeals to the examination boards (17 September); and possible statutory admissions appeals for sixth form places. Ofqual's guidance to students states that a malpractice/maladministration allegation would not be subject to the same deadlines as those set for exam appeals.

8. Plan Sixth Form Admissions Appeals

In our view, at the time of us writing these Top Tips, the Government appears to have overlooked the impact of this process on sixth form admission appeals, which are likely to arise where a candidate fails to achieve the minimum academic entry criteria (MAEC) set by the school as part of their determined admission arrangements. The MAEC is almost always set by reference to GCSE grades.

All those refused a place have a statutory right of appeal. However, as current Year 11 students are already on the roll and simply transfer to Year 12, the statutory right of appeal applies to external candidates only.

Admission Appeal Panels may be held before the exam results of the above appeals are known, and Paragraph 3.17 of the School Admission Appeals Code states:  

"In the case of an appeal where the child did not reach the specified entry requirements, the panel must not make its own assessment of the child's ability, but must decide whether the admission's authority's decision that the child was not of the required standard was reasonable in light of the information available to it. In doing so, it must consider whether any process in place to consider such cases (for example, where a pupil has not been studying in England and therefore did not have GCSEs) was carried out in a consistent and objective way".

We consider that this is unlikely to be fit for purpose in circumstances where exam appeals submitted to examination boards have not yet concluded.

Schools should bear in mind that, as part of their determined admission arrangements, the MAEC they have set for entry to sixth form must be strictly applied (exceptions cannot be made, except where it is appropriate to make a 'reasonable adjustment') and cannot be varied except in accordance with Paragraph 3.6 of the School Admissions Code which would require Secretary of State consent on demonstration that there has been a 'major change in circumstances'.

9. Consider Notifying Insurers

Complaints and threats of claims regarding malpractice and maladministration in particular should be considered for reporting to insurers, as these may circumstances give rise to a claim. Cover is often conditional on all matters which may give rise to a claim being reported as soon as they are known.

10. Consider Serious Incident Reports

In the event of allegations of bias or discrimination, the Trustees of academy trusts should consider the obligation to make a serious incident report in accordance with Charity Commission guidance (academy trusts must make these to the ESFA, not the Charity Commission).

Do remember that our lawyers are on hand to guide you every step of the way. For further advice, please contact Yvonne Spencer on 020 7665 0870 or Joanna Goddard on 020 7665 0805 in our Academies team, or complete the form below.

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