One of the many additional challenges presented to schools as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic was the requirement for schools to produce Centre Assessed Grades (CAGs) for last summer’s A levels and GCSEs. Whilst a challenge in itself, the task was made no easier by the Government’s changing policy and last minute U-turn on standardisation of grades.
We received a number of enquiries from schools whose pupils and parents were unhappy with the CAGs that had been awarded, and who asked for a review of their allocated grades. This entailed schools having to conduct an investigation into whether the grades were calculated using the correct data and whether there was any error, malpractice or maladministration in the calculation of the grades.
Whilst the deadline for rectifying a grade that was calculated using incorrect data has now passed, there is no deadline by which allegations of malpractice or maladministration need to be made, and as such schools may continue to encounter such allegations. Any such allegation would need to be thoroughly investigated and, if upheld, schools will need to consider what sanctions are put in place for the responsible staff. Any schools that find themselves in this position are encouraged to get in touch and we will be happy to provide guidance and support throughout the process.
The Government has now stated that its desire is to carry out the majority of exams in 2021, albeit a few weeks later than usual. However, with the number of Covid cases rising again, and with no sign of a vaccine, schools would be wise to have plans in place for CAGs to underpin the process once more, in the event that the Government U-turns on its decision, or in the event of exam disruption from local lockdowns.
Firstly, schools should have a system in place by which pupils may request an appeal of the grade they have been awarded and, where the school decides not to grant the request for an appeal, there should be a process by which a pupil may request a review of that decision.
Secondly, it is open to a dissatisfied pupil to submit a data subject access request in order to access the personal data that fed into the calculation of their grade. In addition, they may request their rank order information. Schools would therefore be well advised to make sure staff are trained on how to respond to a data subject access request, and to ensure the request is dealt with correctly and within the necessary time limits.
Thirdly, schools should ensure they deal with any formal complaints on CAGs in accordance with their complaints procedure. If the content of the complaints procedure has not been reviewed for some time, it may be worth taking the time to revisit it now and check whether it needs updating.
Finally, schools should advise their teachers to keep a “paper trail” of their decision making. In the 2020 exams, pupils were unable to challenge the professional judgements of their schools in relation to the grades they were allocated. A well-reasoned and documented basis for the decision to allocate a particular grade, which shows the calculation was arrived at using due care and without bias, will therefore put schools in the strongest possible position to challenge any allegations of malpractice.
We will be very happy to assist you with reviewing any of your policies, to discuss with you your obligations on receipt of a data subject access request and to guide you through the process of handling any allegations of malpractice or maladministration.