Fresh uncertainty for Norfolk and Suffolk A-level students after appeal policy suspended

Students at Norwich School receive their A-Level results. Picture: Joe Giddens/PA Wire

Students at Norwich School receive their A-Level results. Picture: Joe Giddens/PA Wire - Credit: PA

A-level students in Norfolk and Suffolk have been plunged into fresh uncertainty after the exams regulator for England dramatically suspended its criteria for students hoping to challenge their grades on the basis of their results in mock exams.

Wymondham College pupil Lisandra Hancke who saw her A-level results downgraded. Picture: Lindi Hanck

Wymondham College pupil Lisandra Hancke who saw her A-level results downgraded. Picture: Lindi Hancke - Credit: Lindi Hancke

In a brief statement, Ofqual said the policy was “being reviewed” by its board and that further information would be released “in due course”.

No reason for the decision was immediately available.

The move comes just hours after the body published its criteria for mock exam results to be considered as the basis of an appeal.

It threatened to plunge the A-level process into further disarray following an outcry from students after almost 40pc of predicted grades were downgraded by the regulator’s “moderation” algorithm.

Former Suffolk headteacher Geoff Barton, now general secretary at the Association of School and Coll

Former Suffolk headteacher Geoff Barton, now general secretary at the Association of School and College Leaders. Picture: Danny Hewitt - Credit: Danny Hewitt

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In a statement late on Saturday, an Ofqual spokesman said: “Earlier today we published information about mock exam results in appeals.

“This policy is being reviewed by the Ofqual board and further information will be published in due course.”

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Labour has accused education secretary Gavin Williamson of backtracking on assurances given to students about the appeals process.

Mr Williamson gave a “triple lock” commitment that students could use the highest result out of their teacher’s predicted grade, their mock exam or sitting the actual exam in the autumn.

However, in its document, Ofqual said that if the mock result was higher than the teacher’s prediction, it was the teacher’s prediction which would count.

The regulator said while mock exams did not usually cover the full range of content, the assessments took into account a student’s performance across the whole course.

Shadow education secretary Kate Green said: “Gavin Williamson promised to give students a triple lock, but instead he left many devastated by unfair exam results, and now his commitment to give them another chance is rapidly unravelling,” she said.

“Having promised that students will be able to use a valid mock result, the reality is that many will not receive these grades even if they represent a student’s best result.

“The latest chaos is the inevitable consequence of this Government’s shambolic approach to exams, which saw solutions dreamt up on the back of a cigarette packet and announced barely a day before young people received their results.”

The latest setback comes as ministers were braced for a fresh backlash when GCSE results for England are announced on Thursday.

Like the A-level results, they will initially be based on teacher assessments and then “moderated” by the Ofqual algorithm to bring them in line with previous years’ results.

Mr Williamson has said the process was necessary to prevent “grade inflation” which would render the results worthless after actual exams had to be abandoned due to the coronavirus outbreak.

However critics have complained it has led to thousands of individual injustices, disproportionately penalising students from schools serving disadvantaged communities.

Geoff Barton, former Bury St Edmunds headteacher and general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said the Qfqual document was “surreal and bureaucratic”.

He urged the government to follow the example of Scotland - where there was a similar outcry - and abandon the moderated results and go back to teacher assessments.

“That would be a better approach than this appeals system as it would mean students would get revised A-level grades immediately on the basis of the teacher assessments already conducted, which draw on the very evidence that is now proposed as part of the appeals process,” he said.

“We don’t blame Ofqual for the bizarre nature of the appeals criteria. The regulator has been given a hospital pass by a government that is in disarray.

“It is time for ministers to stop the chaos and fall back on teacher-assessed grades rather than prolong this nightmare.”

Meanwhile Mr Williamson defended Ofqual’s grading method in a column in the Sunday Express.

He wrote: “No system that was put in place was going to be able to replicate the exams process.

“But the calculated grade overseen by Ofqual makes certain that everyone can be confident that these qualifications carry the same weight as previous years.

“And our triple lock process means if any young person is unhappy with their result, they can appeal on the basis of a valid mock exam and, in England, have the chance to sit exams in the autumn.”

Among those affected in Norfolk were Miles Burford, 18, who missed out on a place to study sport and exercise psychology at Loughborough University.

He had been predicted an A in PE, a B or an A in psychology and a C in history but got C, D and U.

He said: “I was shocked by the results. They do not represent my true ability. I’m so grateful to have a back-up place at Lincoln.”

His mother, Kylie Burford, told the Guardian: “Miles was due to play football for Loughborough, and was considered good enough to join their international Futsal team and have the opportunity to represent the country – those opportunities have been whipped away from him by an algorithm.”

Tom Pinnington, head of school at Notre Dame, said while many of its students had been awarded the grades that they deserved, some “have not been awarded grades that truly reflect their ability, work ethic or potential exam performance”.

He said downgraded students will be the “focus of our support over the next few days”.

Lindi Hancke said her daughter Lisandra, a student at Wymondham College, had seen her teacher-assessed three A grades downgraded, though she was still accepted to study biology and psychology at her first choice university.

She said: “Lisandra worked hard throughout to ensure her triple-A exam result. These marks will be with her for the rest of her life.

“Our A-level students seem to have so many disappointments this year some can’t be controlled but it feels as though this last blow was a bit unnecessary.”

MORE: Teachers and students unhappy at downgraded A-level results

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