Ofqual pushes ahead with controversial clampdown on exam appeals

Exams watchdog Ofqual is pressing ahead with controversial changes that will make it harder to successfully appeal exam results and it says will prevent pupils from getting a “second bite of the cherry”.

The new system will come in this summer. So pupils currently sitting GCSEs and A levels will be subjected to a tough new process if they challenge their grades after results day in August.

Under the measures, exam boards will not be allowed to change a mark unless there has been what Ofqual calls a “clear marking error”.

This means that the original mark could not reasonably have been awarded by a marker following the mark scheme, or that the original marker made an “unreasonable exercise of academic judgement”. Administrative errors such as marks being added together incorrectly, or pages from exam scripts being missed, will also be changed.

Previously markers were able to change marks and grades on appeal under any circumstances where they disagreed with the original decision.

Ofqual says the changes will make the system fairer for all pupils.

It says some pupils are currently being given higher marks after challenging their results even though their original grade was fair – because the second marker has a more generous interpretation of the mark scheme. Ofqual says this disadvantages pupils who do not challenge their results.

Figures from Ofqual show that private schools make more use of the system of challenging grades than those in the state sector.

But headteachers have warned that the plans are “fundamentally flawed”.

When Ofqual consulted on the plans, first mooted in December, the NAHT headteachers’ union said they were “likely to make the current unsatisfactory situation worse” and warned: “The way to restore confidence in exam marking is to increase transparency and rigour – not to make appeals harder.”

The watchdog has also announced that it is lifting a ban on pupils being allowed to challenge their own exam results. Boards will be allowed to decide whether to accept challenges that come directly from pupils rather than through schools.

In a further blow to headteachers, a proposal to widen the grounds on which schools could take marking complaints to the second stage of the appeals process will now be trialled for just three A-levels rather than applied to all A levels and GCSEs as originally proposed.

Julie Swan, Ofqual’s executive director for general qualifications, said: “It is not fair to allow some students to have a second bite of the cherry by giving them a higher mark on review, when the first mark was perfectly appropriate. This undermines the hard work and professionalism of markers. These changes will mean a level playing field for all students.”

Figures from the watchdog show English, geography and history marks were among those changed the most on appeal.

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