Furious A-Level students protested through the Capital today as they face paying hundreds of pounds to appeal results for exams they were not even able to take.
Thousands of teenagers up and down the country have been left in despair after missing out on university places after their exam results were marked down.
Now, they face fees of up to £150 per exam if they wish to lodge an appeal – meaning it could cost as much as £600 if a student chose to have four papers remarked.
A group of students marched down Whitehall in central London this afternoon towards the Department for Education building in protest at the results.
The Association of School and College Leaders said it would ‘favour fees not being charged for appeals’ this year, given the ‘unusual circumstances’ faced by schools.
This comes as applicants to Oxford and Cambridge University who successfully appeal over their A-level results have been told they may have to wait a year before they can start their degree courses.
A group of protesters, including students who received their A-levels on Thursday, marched down Whitehall in central London towards the Department for Education building
Students took part in a protest outside the Department of Education in Westminster this afternoon
Thousands of teenagers up and down the country face fees of up to £150 per exam if they wish to lodge an appeal
How does the appeals process work?
The government is facing a storm after nearly 40 per cent of results were downgraded by the computer model deployed when exams had to be cancelled due to the coronavirus crisis.
Results day has seen growing complaints by pupils and schools about the statistical mechanism used to award grades – which, it is claimed, has unfairly punished some.
The appeals process for this summer is not like the usual reviews of results process.
It is not possible to appeal grades unless schools meet specific criteria set out by Ofqual.
Many are now looking to appeal their grades. Here is how the process works:
- Can ask their school or college to check whether it made an administrative error when submitting their centre assessment grade or position in the rank order and if it agrees it did, to submit an appeal to the exam board
Schools and colleges appeal grounds:
- Procedural: the awarding body did not apply procedures consistently, or procedures were not followed properly and fairly
- Wrong data: the awarding body used the wrong data in calculating results
- Result incorrectly issued: The result generated was incorrectly issued by the awarding body to one or more candidates.
- STAGE 1: Initial review: During the initial review stage, the exam board will check the correct data has been used and that the correct procedure has been followed, depending on your grounds for appeal.
- STAGE 2: Independent review: If you’re unhappy with the outcome of your initial review, you’ll be able to progress to the next stage of the appeals process, which is an independent review.
An independent decision-maker, who is not directly employed by [AQA[, will review your case.
Your request for an independent review must be submitted within 14 calendar days of the initial review outcome being communicated.
Sitting exams in the autumn:
AQA recommends that, in cases where the school or college is submitting an appeal on a student’s behalf, the student also enters for the equivalent exam in the autumn series.
This is because of the tight timelines for the autumn series entry and the turnaround time required for an appeal. This way if a student is not happy with the outcome of the appeal, they can then sit the exam to improve their grade.
Nearly 40 per cent of results were downgraded by the computer model deployed when exams had to be cancelled due to the coronavirus crisis.
The Government announced late on Tuesday that A-level and GCSE students will be able to use results in valid mock exams to appeal if they are unhappy with their results.
But schools, colleges and universities are still unclear how the new appeals process will work and what the likely timescale will be.
England’s exams regulator, Ofqual, has said it is ‘working urgently’ to set out how mock exam results will form the basis of an appeal, but further details will not be ready until next week.
Students will not be able to appeal results directly, but must do so through the head of their college or school.
Ofqual has said schools will be able to challenge grades on behalf of their pupils, including where they have evidence that grades are ‘lower than expected because previous cohorts are not sufficiently representative of this year’s students’.
AQA, the largest provider of GCSEs and A-levels in England, will charge schools £25 for each appeal that is unsuccessful at the ‘initial review’ stage.
The charge will rise to £111.75 if the appeal was made on the grounds that there were ‘exceptional circumstances’.
Appeals that fail at the independent review will be charged at £111.75.
OCR will charge £9.50 per student for each unsuccessful initial review, with the amount payable capped at £95.
Schools will then have to pay £150 for every independent review that is not upheld.
Edexcel will not charge schools for initial reviews on the grounds of centre errors, but will charge £20 per student for unsuccessful initial reviews on the grounds that the exam board made an error, up to a cap of £120 per student subject.
It will charge £120 for failed initial reviews based on ‘exceptional circumstances’.
Appeals that fail at the second independent review stage will be charged at £150.
Beleaguered students have taken to social media today, riddled with anxiety as they face launching an appeal.
One wrote: ‘Given A*AA in teacher assessment having had AAA in mocks I thought my offers to study medicine were secured, but the system provides no leeway for a very high performing cohort in a high performing school.
‘And that’s only IF my appeal succeeds. if not, i’m forced to take a year out and pay to retake exams I never took, potentially twice because being ready for October A Level exams in a month will be massively difficult after zero study for five months.’
Ofqual has confirmed that, because there is grade protection this year, no grades will go down as a result of an appeal – as could normally happen in the appeal process.
Meanwhile, applicants to Oxford University who successfully appeal over their A-level results have been told they may have to wait a year before they can start their degree courses.
Some students who achieve the top grades after challenging their results could have their places at Oxford deferred until autumn 2021 if the institution reaches maximum capacity.
The university has said it would not be possible to meet ‘ongoing social-distancing restrictions’ and other challenges presented by Covid-19 if it went above its maximum intake of students.
Cambridge University has also said students may be asked to defer their entry until autumn 2021 – depending on when they find out their appeal outcome.
Exams regulator faces tens of thousands of appeals
According to Schools Week, fees for appeals last year costs as much as £148.30 for a preliminary appeal, and up to £211.80 for an appeal hearing, meaning a school could pay as much as £360.10 per appeal.
Last year, exam boards received 1,254 appeals, up 46 per cent from the previous year, when there were 857 appeals.
Of the 1,254 appeals last year, 683 were upheld and 426 resulted in a grade change.
But those figures are set to sky rocket this year as thousands of pupils see lower results than expected.
The move comes after Universities Minister Michelle Donelan told universities to hold places for applicants challenging A-level grades until they receive the outcome of their appeal.
On the suggestion that some applicants could be asked to defer places until 2021 if they appeal, shadow health minister Justin Madders tweeted: ‘Haven’t these kids gone through enough already?’
The Ucas deadline for applicants to meet their academic offer conditions is September 7, which leaves exam boards less than four weeks to issue outcomes of appeals.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, told Schools Week: ‘In the unusual circumstances this year, we would favour fees not being charged for appeals.
‘This would ensure that there is a level playing field so that the ability to appeal would not be constrained by the funding that is available.
‘It would help to give people an additional level of confidence in the fairness of the process.’
AQA said: ‘We’ve always said we have no wish to gain financially from this summer’s special arrangements – so we’re already refunding 26% of exam entry fees, which can be used for any appeal costs.’
Thousands of pupils across England have expressed their disappointment at having their results downgraded. Pictured, the protest through the Capital today
Youngsters congregated for a protest outside the Department of Education in London today
Pressure is mounting on the Government over its handling of the exams system after thousands of pupils in England had their results downgraded
The exams regulator Ofqual has said schools will be able to challenge grades on behalf of their pupils, including where they have evidence that grades are ‘lower than expected because previous cohorts are not sufficiently representative of this year’s students’
Around 100 demonstrators gathered outside Downing Street today, chanting ‘sack Gavin Williamson’ and ‘teachers not Tories’ whilst holding placards
Around 100 demonstrators gathered outside Downing Street today, chanting ‘sack Gavin Williamson’ and ‘teachers not Tories’ whilst holding placards.
Student Harry Mayes, from Stoke Newington in north London, missed out on a place at both his firm and insurance university places after receiving A, B and C in his A-levels.
The 18-year-old, who had been hoping to study neuroscience at the University of Bristol and had grades of A*, A and B submitted by his teachers, called the system a ‘complete injustice’.
‘I’m a free school meals student and it seems like people like me have been lowered the most,’ he said.
A-LEVEL RESULTS: WHAT NEXT FOR STUDENTS?
After the release of this year’s A-level results for England, Wales and Northern Ireland, many students will be pondering their futures.
The disruption caused to the exam process by the coronavirus pandemic has led to much uncertainty across the education system.
Here is a breakdown of how this year’s results played out and what next steps students can consider:
What were results like this year?
According to the official data for England, Wales and Northern Ireland, there were some record results.
The proportion of entries awarded an A grade or higher rose to an all-time high of 27.9%, up by 2.4 points on last year.
Another record was seen in the overall pass rate (grades A* to E) which hit 98.3%, up from 97.6%.
But was it all good news for students?
No, thousands saw their results downgraded by a new moderation process introduced after the Covid-19 crisis caused exams to be cancelled.
Pupils received a calculated grade based on teachers submitting predicted marks alongside a rank order of students.
Ofqual data points to around 280,000 A-level entries in England being adjusted down from teachers’ original predictions.
How have people reacted?
The Association of School and College Leaders said it was very concerned about the ‘volatility’ in results.
General secretary Geoff Barton said he had heard ‘heartbreaking’ accounts from schools about grades being pulled down in an ‘utterly unfair and unfathomable’ way.
One school head said she was ‘quite incensed’ that some students would not now be able to go to the university of their choice after results were moderated down by as much as two grades.
Can unhappy students challenge their results?
In England, the Government has outlined a ‘triple lock’ process that could help students boost their results.
This would allow a pupil to either accept their calculated grade, appeal to receive a valid mock result, or sit a new exam in the autumn.
How do appeals work?
In England, Northern Ireland and Wales, pupils can ask their school or college to check if an administrative error was made when they submitted their grade – and they can ask them to pursue an appeal if this happened.
But individual students cannot directly challenge their grades to the exam boards – it needs to be done by a school or college on their behalf.
The exception is in Wales where private candidates can make direct appeals to the exam board.
Ofqual previously said results can go to appeal if a school can show grades are lower than expected because previous cohorts are not ‘representative’ of this year’s students.
The exam regulator said schools and colleges can appeal if they can prove historical data used to standardise grades is not a reliable indicator of this year’s results due to a change of circumstances.
For example, this could be because a school has had a ‘significant change in leadership or governance’ or a ‘monumental event’ such as flooding or fire.
Schools and colleges can also appeal if they believe they made an error when submitting a grade, or if it believes an exam board made a mistake.
Are there differences between nations?
In Scotland this week, protests by pupils resulted in the SNP government allowing results estimated by teachers to be accepted, after thousands of Higher marks were downgraded.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has ruled out making a similar U-turn in England.
In Wales, a different model is used to Scotland, with nearly half of a pupil’s final mark based on AS-levels completed last year.
The Welsh Government has expressed confidence that grades will be ‘robust’ despite concerns that its model would mean pupils at schools which had historically not performed as well would be unfairly penalised.
In Northern Ireland, results are based on teachers’ predictions and statistical modelling.
Its exams body, the Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment, said students will have a broader scope to appeal against A-level and GCSE grades.
How do mock results come into play?
It is not yet fully clear.
Mr Williamson said Ofqual would be ‘issuing clarity’ on how mock tests – held before schools were forced to close amid the pandemic – can form the basis of an appeal.
Ofqual indicated to reporters on Thursday that this may be by the start of next week, if not before.
The concern for students is how seriously they took mock tests.
How will exams work later this year?
The Government has said it will provide a support package to help schools cover the costs of running new exams in the autumn.
This includes booking venues, hiring invigilators and paying for exam fees if they exceed rebates given this summer.
Much will depend on how the pandemic plays out and whether further restrictions on social distancing or a re-tightened lockdown again affect exam plans.
How is this affecting university applications?
According to figures from university admissions service Ucas, more students have been accepted on UK degree courses this year.
A total of 358,860 applicants have been accepted – a 2.9% rise compared with 2019.
Out of these, 316,730 were accepted on their first choice, up 2.7% on the same point last year.
Ministers had urged universities to adopt a ‘flexible’ approach to assessing applications, with institutions told to hold places for students pending the outcome of any appeal.
But exam boards will have less than four weeks to process appeals, with a Ucas deadline of September 7 for applicants to meet their academic offer conditions.
What about clearing?
So far, 7,600 people have found places through clearing this year.
Mr Williamson said a ‘late clearing process’ is expected to be available for pupils taking A-level exams in the autumn.
He said discussions were being held with the university sector so students can possibly start university in January, rather than the usual September/October time.
Ofqual blames the teachers: Regulator says ‘implausibly high’ predicted grades for A-level pupils are behind exams chaos as Starmer calls for Scottish-style U-turn and equalities watchdog threatens to step in
By James Tapsfield Political Editor for MailOnline
Ofqual blamed teachers for suggesting ‘implausibly high’ A-Level grades today as Keir Starmer joined the backlash by demanding standardisation is ditched.
The government is facing a storm after nearly 40 per cent of results were downgraded by the computer model deployed when exams had to be cancelled due to the coronavirus crisis.
Boris Johnson and Education Secretary Gavin Williamson have defended the outcome as ‘robust’ and ‘credible’, while Ofqual pointed out that there would have been massive grade inflation if moderation had not been used.
But Sir Keir today turned up the heat by calling for England to follow Scotland’s example by scrapping the standardisation altogether, and relying on estimates from teachers.
‘The unprecedented and chaotic circumstances created by the UK Government’s mishandling of education during recent months mean that a return to teacher assessments is now the best option available,’ the Labour leader said.
‘No young person should be at a detriment due to Government incompetence.
‘Time is running out. We need action in days, not weeks.’
When the huge U-turn was made on a similar computer model in Scotland, the Higher pass rate soared by 14 percentage points from last year.
Meanwhile, the equalities watchdog has threatened to step in unless Ofqual ensures that children from disadvantaged backgrounds and minority groups do not miss out.
Sir Keir Starmer ([pictured on a visit to Darlington yesterday) has urged the government to emulate the U-turn on A-Level grading in Scotland
No apology from Boris Johnson as he insists results are ‘robust’
Boris Johnson has insisted that the exam results published today are ‘robust’ and ‘dependable’.
The Prime Minister said: ‘Well let me first of all say that I want to congratulate all the students who have worked so hard to get the grades that they have and have done so well.
‘And let’s be in no doubt about it, the exam results that we’ve got today are robust, they’re good, they’re dependable for employers, but already I think that there’s a record number of candidates, of students, who are able to get their first choice course at the university of their choice.
‘Plus, there’s a record number of students, of pupils, from disadvantaged backgrounds who now as a result of these grades, will be able to go to university.’
Mr Johnson also said that he has confidence in Education Secretary Gavin Williamson.
He said: ‘I think obviously it was going to be very difficult in the absence of formal proper exams this year of the kind that we normally have because of the virus, we’ve had to put in the system we have.
‘I do think it’s robust and as I say, a couple of things I think are very important – first of all, more students than ever before are able to go to their university of choice, to do the course of their choice.
‘And on your point about kids, pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds, more than ever before are now able to go to university, are going to university this year as a result of the grades they’ve got today.’
Asked if he has confidence in Mr Williamson, he said: ‘Of course I do, but I think this is a robust system and it’s one that is dependable for employers.
‘It’s very important that for years to come people should be able to look at these grades and think these are robust, these are dependable.’
Ofqual had estimated the A-Level pass rate would be 12 points higher if teacher assessments alone were used.
And a spokesman told the Telegraph today that the ‘standard applied by different schools and colleges varies greatly’.
‘A rare few centres put in implausibly high judgments, including one which submitted all A* and A grades for students in two subjects, where previously there had been normal distribution,’ the spokesman said.
After the 2020 exams were cancelled due to coronavirus, this year’s grades were been calculated by a statistical model that considers the pupils’ past performance along with the historic grades of their school, along with a rank order drawn up by teachers.
But results day has seen growing complaints by pupils and schools about the statistical mechanism used to award grades – which, it is claimed, has unfairly punished some.
Several pupils at one sixth form college were downgraded after getting top predicted grades.
Wiktoria Sniadowska said she would ‘definitely’ appeal after a computer algorithm cut her straight As to BBC. She is continuing her studies at Leyton Sixth Form College in London, where she will take an art foundation diploma.
But she said: ‘I know that if I’d done my exams, I’d have got better grades. It’s unfair.’
Tamzin Iyayi lost out on a place at Cambridge after being marked down from A*AA in history, law and politics. She said: ‘I just feel let down by the Government.’
Aqsa Ali had been offered places to study politics and international relations. But she missed out after being downgraded to a B in politics and Cs in history and religious studies.
She said: ‘It’s had a big impact on my mental health and confidence.’
Elsewhere, a young carer had his A levels lowered by as much as three grades, putting his university plans in doubt.
Maks Ovnik cares for his grandmother, 102, alongside his mother on the Isle of Wight. He got ABB in his mocks and his school gave him AAB in maths, computing and physics.
But these were downgraded by Ofqual to ADE, meaning he loses his place to study physics at Southampton.
Maks, 18, who plans to appeal, thinks his results were downgraded due to his school’s performance last year. He said: ‘It’s not a nice feeling at all.’
Students burn their A-Level results at the London Dungeon as students find out whether they have got a university place
Key statistics in this year’s A-level results
- The proportion of candidates receiving top grades is the highest on record. A total of 27.9% of entrants scored either an A or A*, up from 25.5% in 2019.
- Some 9.0% of entrants received an A*. This is another record high, and is up from 7.8% last year.
- The overall pass rate (grades A* to E) was 98.3% – again, another record high. It is up from 97.6% in 2019.
- Some 78.4% received a C or above, up from 75.8% in 2019 and the highest since at least 2000.
- Girls have extended their lead over boys in the top grades. The proportion of girls who got A or higher was 28.4%, 1.1 percentage points higher than boys (27.3%). Last year, girls led boys by just 0.1 percentage points (25.5% girls, 25.4% boys). Boys briefly took the lead in 2017 and 2018, following a long period in which girls had been ahead.
- The gap between the best-performing boys and girls has fallen slightly. The proportion of boys who got A* was 9.3%, 0.5 percentage points higher than girls (8.8%). Last year, the gap was 0.7 points.
- The most popular subject this year was maths. It was taken by 94,168 entrants, up 2.5% on 2019.
- Psychology was the second most popular subject, overtaking biology. It was taken by 65,255 entrants, up 1.0% on 2019. Biology slipped to become the third most popular subject, taken by 65,057 entrants, a fall of 6.0%.
- ICT (information and communications technology) saw the biggest drop in candidates for a single subject with more than 1,000 entrants, falling by 15.3% from 1,572 to 1,332.
- Computing saw the biggest jump in candidates of any subject with more than 1,000 entrants, rising by 11.7% from 11,124 to 12,426.
- There were 780,557 A-levels awarded, down 2.6% on last year’s total (801,002) and the lowest number since 2004.
Equality and Human Rights Commission Chief Executive, Rebecca Hilsenrath said there must not be a disproportionate impact on already disadvantaged groups.
‘Many of these children come from disadvantaged backgrounds. If we are going to build back better and not make things worse, it needs to start with our children’s future,’ she said.
‘We have been clear with Ofqual that they must consider the equality impacts of all their actions and mitigate against any potential negative affect on these groups.
‘Ofqual should be clear about the impact of the algorithm used in the standardisation model and the steps taken to remove bias and take into account equality.’
She added: ‘Students who have been downgraded must be able to appeal directly if they believe their grades are unfair.
‘We will continue to discuss this with Ofqual and consider all our powers so that ethnic minority and disabled children, for example, are treated fairly in this process.’
But in a round of interviews this morning Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, said that more pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds have been accepted to university than last year.
Asked if he would accept that poorer students have been hardest hit by the downgrading, Mr Shapps told BBC Breakfast: ‘No, I think again you should go on the evidence here – that’s not been the upshot.
‘I was having a look at the numbers and 18-year-olds from the most disadvantaged backgrounds, on the basis of the exam results yesterday, 7.3 per cent more are going to university, have been accepted for university, than just last year.’
He added: ‘The figures show that both disadvantaged, and indeed the overall numbers of students who’ve got 9,000 more university places confirmed than last year, 179,000 18-year-olds accepted already for university, so the figures look good in terms of students being able to go to university this year.’
Presenter Charlie Stayt suggested to Mr Shapps that he was discounting statistics indicating that children from the most deprived areas have been hardest hit by results being downgraded.
Mr Shapps responded: ‘I don’t (discount it), it’s just that I’m reading an actual statistic – 7.3 per cent more children from disadvantaged backgrounds, 18-year-olds, accepted to university this than last year, to which you’re coming back and saying I don’t agree with that, but you’re not providing me any numbers.
‘So yes, I do think that more students from disadvantaged backgrounds are going to university and overall, as I say, we’ve got more been accepted to university than previously as well.
‘So look, those are the figures. If you’ve got up some other figures then tell me, but that’s the numbers I’ve got in front of me.’
Left to right: Wiktoria Sniadowska, Tamzin Iyayi and Aqsa Ali. Wiktoria said she would ‘definitely’ appeal after a computer algorithm cut her straight As to BBC
Maks Ovnik cares for his grandmother, 102, alongside his mother on the Isle of Wight
A-level trends: Farewell to general studies as girls outnumber boys in science
From subjects that have bowed out to those on the way up, here are six trends in this year’s A-level results:
– Farewell general studies
There were zero entries for A-level general studies this year. Ten years ago there were 46,770. The subject had been in decline before it became formally unavailable as an A-level in 2017, though last year there were still 41 entries. Two other subjects have also bowed out: communication studies and critical thinking. Both had around 2,000 entries 10 years ago.
– Spanish on the up
Last year, Spanish overtook French to become the most popular language at A-level. This year the gap has widened, with Spanish entries up 0.9% while French dropped by 1.1%. German suffered an even bigger decline, falling 6.2% and dipping below 3,000 entries for the first time.
– Drama and music on the way down
Entries for music have fallen 43% since 2010, while drama is down 42%. Both have spent most of the past decade in decline. Drama dropped by 6% between 2019 and 2020, while music fell 3%.
– Girls outnumber boys in science
For the second year in a row, there were more female entries than male entries in the sciences. When combining the figures for biology, chemistry and physics, girls accounted for 80,854 entries (50.9%) and boys 78,122 (49.1%). Though physics remains dominated by boys (77% of entries), girls make up the majority of entries for both biology (64%) and chemistry (54%).
– Computing has biggest gender imbalance
While most of the entries for physics were from boys, it was not the subject that recorded the biggest gender imbalance towards males. That was computing, where boys made up 86% of entries and girls 14%. The biggest imbalance towards females was in performing/expressive arts, where girls made up 90% of entries and boys just 10%.
– Psychology outranks biology
The most popular subject taken this year was maths (94,168 entries), as has been the case for the last few years. But there was a change in second place, with psychology (65,255 entries) overtaking biology (65,057 entries). Psychology has gone up by around 10,000 entries since 2014, and this – plus a year-on-year fall in biology entries this year of around 4,000 – allowed it to move into second spot.
Mr Williamson had faced pressure to address the ‘huge injustice’ of the 2020 results by head teachers and the Labour Party after data revealed that the marks of poorer pupils in England were more likely to be downgraded by the algorithm.
Sources close to Mr Williamson say that there will be no U-turn, adding that the model used had been the fairest way to deal with the matter, given the circumstances.
They highlighted Ofqual figures that revealed nearly twice the number of pupils would be awarded A*s than in previous years if ‘optimistic’ grades were permitted to stand.
Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has written to Mr Williamson saying he is ‘very concerned at the publication of, and issues surrounding, [this year’s] A-level results’.
He said: ‘The Government’s last-minute decision to revise A-Level grading options is the latest in a series of bewildering exam announcements at a time when pupils need clarity and certainty.
‘I am particularly concerned at disadvantaged pupils and those in state sixth-form and further education colleges losing out disproportionately.
‘It is absolutely vital that ministers now provide clear information on the process for contesting grades to ensure every teenager receives a mark which reflects their effort and ability – both this week with A-levels and next week with GCSEs.
‘I urge you, on behalf on London’s next generation, to look at what Scotland has done, to admit that mistakes have been made, and to ensure that teachers’ assessments are properly taken into account as these provide overall a far fairer way of attributing grades compared to what we have seen today.
‘I would welcome your urgent response to this letter.’
One Government source said: ‘There are always people who do not get their predicted grades. People seem to be operating with the notion that everyone should just get what their teachers think they should have got.’