A-level results ‘the most unfair in a generation’, warn headteachers following changes in appeals

16 August 2016
Posted by Heidi Salmons

The Telegraph, 16.08.16, A-level results will be the "most unfair in a generation", headteachers have warned, after changes to the appeals process that may result in students missing out on places at elite universities. HMC Chair Chris King, headmaster of leading independent Leicester Grammar School is quoted.

Leading heads of both private and state schools said that students appealing exam results face “the most chaotic and unfair year in a generation”.

In May this year, Ofqual, the exam boards regulator, said it would only allow re-marking if there were "clear errors".

In a major clampdown on exam appeals, Ofqual said it would press ahead with a tougher system that will make it harder for some pupils to get a “second bite of the cherry”.

But leading heads representing schools such as Eton College and Harrow argue the reforms have been "rushed and flawed" and will breed inconsistency and confusion.

Ofqual maintained that its reforms were to make the system “clearer, more consistent, and fairer for all students”.

One or two marks can mean the difference between fulfilling their dreams or being forced to completely rethink their futures. 
Chris King, HMC Chairman

However, Chris King – chairman of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC) – argued that the changes to the exam appeal system will have "lifelong consequences" for bright pupils who will miss out on Oxbridge places by a few points because of subjective marking.

He told the Telegraph: “This unfair situation could have a seriously harmful impact on young people’s life chances.

“For example, there is a risk that students might not get the marks they deserve and miss out on a place at Oxford, Cambridge or another top university or medical school.

“One or two marks can mean the difference between fulfilling their dreams or being forced to completely rethink their futures.

“Lack of accuracy and fair appeal is not only wrong but has lifelong consequences; this is why we call on the regulator to put the wellbeing of students rather than the system at the centre of its approach.”

His warnings came as hundreds of thousands of students prepare to learn their A-level results later this week.

The HMC and the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) have warned students and parents that this year “it may be harder than ever before for A-level candidates who appeal their grades to get a fair outcome”.

They argue that the new rules on formal appeals against this summer’s results are ‘confusing’ because they will only apply only to three subjects.

They said that the list of subjects – physics, geography and religious studies – has now been changed since it was first announced earlier this year.

In June Ofqual published a survey which showed deteriorating faith in A-levels among head teachers.

In its latest annual survey the regulator found that 42 per cent of head teachers feel that the current appeals system is unfair compared to 29 per cent who think that it is fair.  It also found that head teacher trust in A-levels has declined since last year from 88 per cent to 85 per cent.

Mr King added: “The extent of uncertainty and inconsistency in how this summer’s grades can be checked is absurd. This has all the hallmarks of reforms brought in far too quickly with some previously announced changes being confirmed, others changed and yet others shelved.”

“It is also unacceptable that these further changes have been announced after some schools broke up for the summer holidays.

“In addition, we have only now found out for the first time – and very late in the day – precisely how the new experimental mark-checking system will be tested this year when initial marks are reviewed across all subjects.

"Just as we feared, this process will be very vague and unsatisfactory, leading to the likelihood of fewer accurate replacement marks than in previous years.

“Reviewers will have to look out for ‘unreasonable exercise of academic judgment’ but all they will have to go on is Ofqual’s advice that ‘unreasonable' should be given its normal meaning and a common-sense approach should be adopted’. What kind of precision check is that for high-stakes exams such as A-level?”

Russell Hobby, the general secretary of the NAHT, said: “It is clear that unreasonable deadlines have been put on exam boards to make the changes announced three months ago.

"Their further alteration over the summer is bound to cause confusion and shows that the regulator rushed the proposed reforms.”

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