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A-levels and GCSEs procedure 2021

Results day, mitigating circumstances and appealing grades.

As the classes of 2021 gets ready for their results to be issued, this has been a trying and stressful time for students and their parents. The uncertainty and doubt surrounding this process is set to make an already difficult time much harder. With results day for A-level tomorrow and GCSE results day set for 12/08/2021, here is some information which will hopefully provide a bit of clarity.

How are the grades decided?

This year, A-level and GCSE exams have been cancelled due to the disruption and safety concerns of Covid-19. In their place, the Department of Education has confirmed that grades will be assessed and decided by the student’s teachers. This has been done to assure students that they will still receive a grade which is based on their ability. Importantly, it’s been made clear that a student’s grade will be based only on the work they have done and wouldn’t consider any work they have missed.

When it comes time to assess the student’s grades, the teachers should have used a wide range of evidence to make their decision. This could include mock exams, coursework and other work completed as part of a student’s course, such as essays or in-class tests. The teachers were provided clear guidance by the Department of Education and exam boards provided optional sets of questions for teachers to use to help them gather evidence. These were a combination of published and unpublished questions and teachers were able to select questions that reflect what they have taught their students.

Schools needed to make sure that their assessment process is fair, using guidance from exam boards. Exam boards will also check schools – both a representative sample of all schools and colleges, and more targeted checks using risk-based criteria. Before the grades are submitted, students should be told what evidence is being used to assess them. 

Students should also tell their teachers about any mitigating circumstances over the academic year which they think might affect their grade. This could include bereavement, financial hardship or physical and mental illness. The school will have discretion over whether to consider these circumstances, and so if a school believes that a student has suffered misfortune which has impacted their academic ability they may take that into account when coming to a decision. 

To protect against grade inflation, the exam boards will provide example answers and grade descriptors which will be broadly comparable to performance standards in previous years. These should help teachers make sure their assessments are fair and consistent with previous year’s results. This will run in tandem with the exam board’s quality assurance process to ensure that grades are consistent.

Appealing my grade

If the school has not changed the preliminary grade before it was finalised on 18/06/2021, there are still options available. Just like every other year, students have a full opportunity to appeal their grade. This is actually why the A-level results day has been moved forward; to give more time for students to log appeals for their results before they go to university. If a student believes their result is incorrect after they have asked their school to check the result, the student can ask their school to conduct a centre review. 

The deadline for this is different based on whether you are a “priority” appeal or a “Non-priority” appeal. You are a “priority” appeal if you are appealing because your place at your firm choice of University (or other higher education provider) is jeopardised because of your grades. If this isn’t the case, you are a “Non-priority” appeal. The deadline for “priority” appeals is 16.08 in England, whereas “Non-priority” appeals have until 03.09 in England. 

To appeal, you need to successfully argue that there has been a mistake made in the assessment of your grade. You must appeal on one of the following grounds:

  • failed to follow its procedures properly or consistently in arriving at that result or
  • made an administrative error in relation to the result.

If you believe your school has made a mistake regarding academic judgement (i.e you believe that the school is being unreasonable in how it has assessed your grade based on the evidence), then this will only be considered in an exam board appeal. However, you still need to ask the school to conduct a centre review before you can approach the exam board. The school must accept any request to conduct a centre review. Your school must have a clear process for administering the reviews and this must have been communicated to you.

It is very important to note that if you do appeal, you run the risk that your grade may go down as well as up. 

If after the centre review the student believes their grade is still incorrect, then the student can ask the exam centre to submit an appeal to the exam board on their student’s behalf. The exam board can then confirm whether the grade is reasonable based on the evidence provided to it. If the grade is not reasonable, the exam board will determine the alternative grade. You MUST follow the procedure step-by-step, asking the school to conduct a centre review before you approach the exam board to appeal. If not, your appeal may be not properly considered. 

Further help

Education law can be complicated and stressful and a student must fully understand the procedures to have the best possible chance of success. With their extensive knowledge and experience in dealing with school disputes, our education solicitors can help students by providing independent advice and help drafting a robust appeal.  At HCB, our education lawyers are passionate about getting the best possible result for students and understand the significant impact these decisions can have on both your education and future career. Making an appeal with the assistance of our specialist lawyers will provide you the independent and specialist advice you need.

If you need the help of a specialist education solicitor, please contact our specialist education legal team on 0333 202 7175 or contact us by email on 

Please note: the contents of this article are accurate as of 13/05/2021.