As the dates for release of GCSE, AS, A level and VTQ results draw ever nearer, Jennifer Wright, one of our education experts has set out below 5 considerations for schools and colleges preparing for any appeals challenging this summer’s grades.

It's times like these, time and time again

A key difference from last year’s exam appeals process is the introduction of the ‘priority’ appeals process for students. This process is intended to help students applying to higher education who did not attain their firm choice (i.e. the offer they accepted as their first choice), but seek to appeal an A level or other Level 3 qualification result to gain certainty ahead of the start of the higher education term in September/October 2021.

Schools/colleges will need to move more quickly to respond to appeals submitted by these students to ensure they are complying with the new priority appeals window. Schools/colleges should put in place a timeframe for responding to centre review requests and processing appeals which fits within the appeal windows set out below.

The relevant dates for priority and non-priority appeal processes are as follows:

Key dates for priority appeals:

10 August to 16 August 2021Window for students to request a centre review
10 August to 20 August 2021Centres conduct centre reviews
10 August to 23 August 2021Centres submit appeals to awarding organisations 

Key dates for non-priority appeals:

From result day to 3 September 2021Window for students to request a centre review
From result day to 10 September 2021Centres conduct centre reviews
From result day to 17 September 2021Centres submit appeals to awarding organisations

Schools/colleges should make sure that any student requesting a priority appeal includes their UCAS personal ID with the appeal application so that their request can be identified as one which requires prioritisation.

Making a list and checking it twice

Schools/colleges should already have in place centre policy procedures for managing the summer 2021 exams and appeals processes. In accordance with those policies, schools should make sure all their evidence is in order and readily available in case a student requests it to assist in appealing their grade. That evidence may include:

  • the sources of evidence used to determine their final TAG along with (and where deemed appropriate by the centre) any grades/marks associated with them. This transparency will allow students to identify any errors or highlight circumstances relating to pieces of evidence and should reduce the number of instances where students request a centre review or awarding organisation appeal once results have been issued;
  • the centre policy and any supporting documentation;
  • details of any variations in evidence used based on disruption to what a student was taught;
  • details of any special circumstances that have been considered in determining their grade, e.g. access arrangements/reasonable adjustments or mitigating circumstances such as illness.

As schools/colleges are aware, they must not share with students the final TAG submitted to the awarding organisation. Doing so will likely incur disciplinary consequences on the part of the school/college, and will also be viewed as malpractice with appropriate action to be taken in response by the relevant awarding organisation.

However, the school can share the above information (set out on page 13 of the JCQ guidance) with students. The JCQ guidance encourages sharing this information with students before or on results day, noting that the need for centre reviews and awarding organisation appeals should be reduced if a centre shares the information above.

Schools and colleges should check their complaints policy/processes are up to date, and that they are readily accessible to students and staff who many need to manage any complaints in respect of the exam process. They should also check that they include relevant information from the JCQ guidance, and that a distinction is drawn between what the complaints process and exam appeals processes can achieve.

Finally, schools/colleges must keep a central record of all review applications received, and the outcomes of those reviews.

Having all of this evidence readily available and well organised will avoid delays in processing reviews and submitting appeals to awarding organisations.

You can’t always get what you want (unless it’s your personal data!)

Students who are unhappy with the grades awarded to them may make a subject access request under GDPR or an FOI request.

Schools/colleges are required to apply unique time limits for responding to SARs submitted in relation to ‘exam data’ (marks, assessment documents, or other information which was factored into the decision making resulting in the final marks awarded). Those time limits are as follows:

If a request is lodged before exam results are awarded:  5 months from receipt of the SAR or within 40 calendar days of the announcement of the exam results (if earlier)

If a request is lodged after exam results are awarded: 1 calendar month as per the ordinary GDPR time limit.

The relevant deadline for responding to an FOIA request  is 60 calendar days or 20 school days, whichever is shorter.

Schools/colleges should have clear policies in place for managing SARs and FOI requests, that include the process for making request, set out how requests will be prioritised (bearing in mind SARs relating to appeals may be time-sensitive), make clear who has the right of access, and also for staff consideration include information about anonymising/pseudonymising data and applying exemptions from the right of access (where relevant).

Schools/colleges should also have retention schedules in place which clearly set out how long they should be holding records relating to exams for, bearing in mind that students and/or exam boards may at a future date make a request for information relating to a determination of grades.

Hello, is it me you’re looking for?

Schools/colleges should also ensure that their policies make clear the named staff responsible for key tasks in the appeals process. These include staff with the following responsibilities:

  • who students should approach to request a centre reviews;
  • who are responsible for conducting the centre reviews;
  • who are responsible for submitting appeals to the AO and with whom the AO can liaise should further information be needed before an appeal can be progressed;
  • who can be contacted in respect of any SAR or FOI requests; and
  • who can be contacted in respect of the centre’s complaints process.

Talking about a revolution

As well as having policies and key contacts in place, before results are issued, centres must have taken all reasonable steps to communicate relevant information to all students (including private candidates) ahead of the results days.

This includes information about the arrangements in place for conducting centre reviews and submitting appeals to the awarding organisation following a centre review, and providing them with a statement of the arrangements promptly when requested.  

If you have not already shared these with students and parents, you should take steps to communicate these as soon as possible.

You should make clear in your communications that whilst all students are able to submit a request for a centre review (or thereafter an appeal to an awarding organisation), they must be aware that in submitting a request they consent to their result potentially being altered as a result; their result may be lowered, be increased, or remain the same as a result of the process.

Taking all of the above steps should help the 2021 appeals processes to run smoothly, and to minimise any delays.

If you have any questions, our education solicitors can advise schools and colleges on any aspect of the appeals process. Contact us today to find out more.