For the second year running in England, most nationwide exams are cancelled on account of the huge disruption to learning pupils have faced during the pandemic. It is not fair for exams to go ahead as normal. That’s the simple part. More complicated is, following the algorithm exams fiasco of 2020, how exactly are grades to be decided in 2021?  

A level results day is 10 August and GCSEs results are due on 12 August.

For students and their parents in England, here is what you need to know.

How will GCSEs and A level grades be decided?

Results will be decided by teacher assessed grades (TAGs) based on “the standard at which the student is performing and that the grade should indicate the student’s demonstrated knowledge, understanding and skill”.”

With no standard exams, responsibility for determining grades has fallen to the teachers themselves who will use a range of evidence to determine grades, for example, mock exams, coursework and class tests.

Grades will be based only on what students have been taught.

Schools submitted grades to the exam boards on 18 June 2021 and before grades were submitted, students should have been told what evidence is being used to assess them. This was with a view to enabling students to raise with their school any mitigating circumstances which may affect their grade such as absence, illness or lack of reasonable adjustments for a disability.

More information on the grading process can be found in Ofqual's Student guide to awarding, Summer 2021

What if a student believes they have been awarded the wrong grade? 

For a student who believes a grade has been awarded incorrectly there is a right of appeal.

The government have issued guidance on how to appeal against a GCSE, AS or A level grade or the result of a qualification.

The first step is to urgently ask for the school to review the grade to see if a mistake or procedural error has been made. (For example, has the correct TAG been sent to the exam board i.e has student Charles John been incorrectly submitted as John Charles?)

This review process has to be completed by schools quickly and needs to be done before an appeal can be submitted.

If unsatisfied with the result from the review process, a student can request that the school submit an appeal to the exam board. Schools must submit an appeal if one is requested. Schools should submit an appeal by 23 August 2021 - if a student’s university or college place depends on their results and 17 September 2021 for all other GCSE, AS and A level results.

The exam boards will consider the appeal to see whether the grade is reasonable based on the evidence. Students should note that a grade can be changed up or down or stay the same.

The exam boards have indicated that they are very unlikely to change a grade where the evidence cannot reasonably support that grade. That is to say marginal differences of opinion between grades are unlikely to result in a change of grade.

If ultimately unsatisfied with how an exam board has considered the appeal, a further appeal can be made to Ofqual’s Exam Procedures Review Service (EPRS).

What about disadvantaged students?

Concerns have been raised about how disparities based on deprived or disabled children’s access to education during lockdown, or race and sex based teacher bias will be fairly mitigated.

Students and their parents may also therefore need to consider whether there are grounds for Equality Act claims or applications for Judicial Review.

Suffice to say, receiving exam results can be a nervous time for students and their families and this year will be no exception.