Having completed the process of submitting their Teacher Assessed Grades (TAGs) for the 2021 summer exams, schools are now waiting for results to be published in August with the prospect of dissatisfied students demanding a review/appeal of their grades. Some schools have already been treading a tightrope as parents have been applying pressure to award their sons and daughters the grades they believe they deserve.
A big challenge has been the fact that schools have been given so much discretion in deciding what evidence will be used to determine grades. This makes the goal of ensuring that standards are consistent across the country almost impossible, with a range of different approaches being adopted. A snap poll of state and independent secondary schools by the Association of School and College Leaders found that 7% said they would rely entirely on tests “sat in exam-style conditions” to assess final grades whereas 6% of schools and colleges said their grades would be based only on “non-exam evidence.” The majority, some 53% of schools said that they would award grades based on a combination of tests and non-exam evidence but with “greater weighting” given to the exam-style papers. 26% said they would give roughly equal weight to tests and other areas of study.
The right of students to request a review/appeal of their grades has been well publicised. Although this process is intended to remedy genuine errors only, there is a likelihood that many schools will see significant numbers of pupils querying their grades and requesting reviews/appeals. The key to managing this process is to start planning now (if you have not yet done so).
Grounds for a review/appeal are that a pupil believes:
- The grade reflects an unreasonable exercise of academic judgment; and/or
- The school failed to follow its procedures properly and consistently; and/or
- The school made an administrative error.
The first stage in the process is for the student to request the school to conduct an internal review. This internal review needs to examine whether there were any administrative errors when the grade was submitted and to check that the school followed its procedures correctly. If the school concludes that there was an error, it should submit a revised grade to the exam board. Schools should not be checking whether the grade awarded was a reasonable exercise of academic judgment – this is a matter that may only be considered by the exam board in the second stage of the appeal process.
If a student remains dissatisfied following the school’s internal review, the second stage in the process is for the student to request the school to submit a formal appeal to the exam board on their behalf, together with accompanying evidence. Where applicable, the exam board will then consider whether the school followed its own processes for determining TAGs as well as exam board requirements. The exam board may review the evidence relied upon by the teacher and determine whether the grade awarded was ‘a reasonable exercise of academic judgement’.
A failure to comply with a student’s request to review a grade, or a failure to submit an appeal to the exam board when requested to do so, could constitute malpractice by the school. It is therefore very important that schools are geared up for responding promptly to all such requests.
The deadline by which a request for a review/appeal must be submitted varies depending upon whether or not it is considered to be a priority. Students who have not been awarded the grades required to meet their university offers will be considered a priority. All other requests for a review/appeal will be considered non-priority.
Requests for a priority review must be submitted by students to the school by 16 August 2021, and any second stage appeal by the school to the exam board must be submitted by 23 August 2021. First stage non-priority requests for a review need to be submitted to the school by 3 September 2021, and schools have until 17 September 2021 to submit any second stage appeal to the exam board.
Guidance issued by the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) recommends that prior to results day schools should communicate clearly with parents and students, so that they understand
- the school’s approach to determining grades
- the evidence that the school has used to determine grades and
- the marks associated with that evidence.
However, grades must not be communicated before results day. Schools may wish to undertake a further quality assurance exercise prior to results day in order to minimise the number of potential requests for reviews based on administrative errors. Any administrative errors discovered should be notified to the exam board.
Schools should ensure that they have a policy/procedure for reviews/appeals in place and appropriate resources to manage the process. In particular, sufficient staff must be available to handle what could be a large number of requests for reviews/appeals in August.
Students should be made aware that a request for a review/ appeal may result in their grade going down as well as up, and they should be given ready access to all information needed to help them decide whether to request a review/appeal.
Clear records should be kept of all review applications received and the outcomes of those reviews. This information needs to be easily accessible, should an appeal subsequently need to be submitted to the exam board.
It is possible that, in addition to requests for reviews/appeals, schools may receive complaints from parents under the school’s formal complaints procedure, as well as data subject access requests asking for information about the evidence used to determine a student’s TAG. Schools should therefore be mindful to keep and preserve careful records and ensure staff know what to do if they receive a complaint or a data subject access request.
We guided a number of schools through the process of managing reviews/appeals last summer, and we have a wealth of experience in advising schools on parental complaints and data subject access requests. Any school that would like support in preparing for results day, or in managing reviews and appeals, contact our expert solicitors.