A-Level Results: What can students that have received lower than expected grades do?

For many students, Thursday’s A – Levels results would have been a disappointment. Nearly 40% of all grades across England, Wales, and Northern Ireland were downgraded by one to two grades. Pupils at maintained and academy schools appear to have been disproportionately affected, with  independent schools benefiting seeing an overall increase in the number of students receiving top grades. Understandably this has caused much frustration and anger at the Government’s hastily assembled exam moderation system which has led to grossly unfair results for many pupils.

How were A-levels assessed?

This year, due to Coronavirus, Summer exams were replaced with a new system based on teachers providing a predicated grade in every subject for each student and then ranking each student in the school according to how well they thought they performed in every exam. This data was then sent to Ofqual, the exams regulator, which applied a statistical, standardization algorithm. This model was based on five aims:


  • Provide candidates with the grades had they been able to complete their exams this summer;
  • Apply a common standardization approach within and across subjects;
  • Use a method which is transparent;
  • Protect all students being systemically advantaged or disadvantaged; and
  • Be deliverable by exam boards in a consistent way.


Despite calls to make the standardisation model publicly available, Ofqual announced that they would not make the algorithm publicly available until results day. It is now clear that the standardisation process placed significant weight on the historic performance of the school or college. As a result, the grade a pupil received depended not on their own individual performance, but how well previous pupils at their school had performed.

In the face of growing concern about the process for awarding A-levels, the government announced on Tuesday 11 August a new triple lock system to assuage some of the concerns expressed by students, parents, and teachers over the standardization model. This triple lock was said to allow any student to take the best results in their mock exams, predictions (using the standardization model), or the results gained from re-taking exams in the Autumn.

Can I appeal grades?

 Prior to the announcement of grades, a limited appeal process had been announced. Schools could appeal against the exam board on behalf of their students on the grounds that the exam board used the wrong data when calculating grades or incorrectly communicated the grades calculated. There must be clear evidence that the error occurred in the school. In rare cases, where the school can demonstrate that their current cohort has changed so much that the data standardization model would be inaccurate, they will be able to appeal to the exams board.

Significantly Ofqual did not provide a right of appeal for students to appeal against their predicted grades or their ranking or the standardisation model used. Students can ask the school to check whether they made an administrative error in communicating the student’s results to the exam board. Students would only be able to raise a complaint to their school on the basis that there was evidence of bias or discrimination against them. Students can raise an internal appeal against a school’s decision not to appeal to the exam board, which must be based on administrative error, wrong data or procedural grounds. Wrong data includes incorrect data that the school provided to the award body on grades or rank order information; incorrect data sets used by the awarding body; errors introduced into an accurate data set by the awarding body; and exceptional circumstances that undermine the notion that the default data set will lead to consist results.

An appeal right was subsequently created for someone if their mock grade was higher than their assessed award. However, only a few hours later it was announced that the details were under review. Therefore at the time of writing it remains unclear how this appeal right can be exercised.

If I cannot appeal is there anything I can do?

There are other potential routes of redress outside the normal appeal process.

First, it may be possible for pupils to challenge their grade and the process by which it was awarded by way of judicial review. Judicial review is a legal process by which the Administrative Court is asked to review the lawfulness of a public body decision or process. Potentially the standardisation model or lack of appeal of  process that has created such blatantly unfair results for so many pupils could be judicially reviewed.

Second, it may be possible for students to bring discrimination claims against their school or Ofqual if they can show that they have been discriminated against.


At Matthew Gold and Company we have significant experience in acting for Claimants in judicial review proceedings. If you have been adversely affected by this year’s process for awarding A-levels, please contact us on 020 8445 9268 or by email at info@matthewgold.co.uk