GCSE and A-level appeals soared in 2021, Ofqual data shows

The number of students appealing exam results soared last summer after changes were introduced to the way grades can be awarded and challenged due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Data released by exams regulator Ofqual shows students across England lodged 16,000 appeals against GCSE, AS and A level grades in the summer of 2021.

This was more than four times the 3,575 calls received the previous year, although the Department for Education (DfE) warned against comparisons with previous years due to the review of the assessment process and call.

In 2021, students achieved GCSE, AS and A level grades based on teacher assessment rather than exam results for the second year in a row due to the disruption to learning caused by Covid-19.

As part of the reshuffle, each student had the right to appeal their grade if they wished.

Number of appeals against GCSE and A-Level grades

The appeal may first be allowed after review by the school or college, or later by the examining board awarding the mark.

Separate data released by Qualifications Wales shows that 317 appeals were submitted across the country following the 2021 exams, almost double the 166 recorded a year earlier.

However, the figures for Wales only include appeals to examination boards and not those dealt with by schools.

Across England, 5,760 (36%) of calls were upheld, resulting in 6,000 grade changes, while in Wales 15 (5%) of calls were upheld, resulting in 15 grade adjustments .

The number of appeals in England does not match the number of grades changed as students are given two grades for GCSE Combined Science.

Percentage increase in calls by region
Percentage increase in calls by region

The most common reason for appeals in both countries was “unreasonable exercise of academic judgment.”

Despite the increase in appeals, the number of ratings changed as the result was still only a tiny fraction of all those awarded.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said it had been a “difficult task” for schools to assign grades to their students.

He added: “Leaders and teachers pulled together admirably and did a fantastic job in extremely difficult circumstances, but it was inevitable that there would be more calls than normal years because the system of awarding notes came with a completely different system and very accessible appeals process.

Ministers in England and Wales have said exams should go ahead as normal this summer.

GCSE and A-Level calls in 2021
GCSE and A-Level calls in 2021

But there will also be adjustments, such as schools being notified of exam topics in advance to compensate for the continued disruption to education.

Mr Barton said: “Providing them with advance information about exam content will help them focus their studies over the coming weeks as they prepare for these important exams.

“It is essential that these adaptations clarify and reassure students, parents and teachers.

A Welsh Government spokesman said the Welsh Joint Education Committee had put in place a series of adaptations to make this year’s exams as fair as possible.

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