Heads anxious to ensure there is no repeat of the 2002 A-level grading scandal will be prevented from sitting in on many crucial grading meetings they wanted to observe this summer, The TES has learned.
Technology has allowed much of the decision-making process in which marks are decided for each grade boundary to move online.
Now, one of the big three boards, OCR (Oxford, Cambridge and RSA Examinations board) has told heads they cannot observe the "virtual" online decisions because they should not have access to scripts outside the controlled conditions of a physical meeting room.
The majority of OCR's grading decisions are now taken online so its stance could hinder heads' efforts to ensure their pupils get a fair deal in the first year of new-style modular A-levels.
Heads last felt compelled to sit in on the grading process in the aftermath of the 2002 scandal that saw 10,000 pupils' work re-graded. At the time, all grade boundaries were set in physical face-to-face meetings.
The TES revealed in January that heads wanted to observe the decisions again after a five-year absence because they feared this year's changes with the new A* grade and two module A2s could lead to another meltdown.
With the exam season about to begin, this week's news has taken heads by surprise.
Geoff Lucas, the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference secretary, said: "OCR have never previously mentioned this. It doesn't inspire much confidence against the background of a year when there is already a lot of anxiety. You would think they would want to minimise our concerns, not fuel them."
In January, OCR said heads had always been welcome at such meetings.
But this week, a spokesperson for the board revealed that not only had many of the physical meetings disappeared, but their substitutes were not held in real time.
Examiners working from home can send in their opinions at different times, so there is not even a virtual meeting that heads could observe online.
"You can't see a remote awarding meeting because there is nothing to see," she said. "And we wouldn't give people access to scripts without the appropriate controlled environment."
Asked how heads could alleviate their concerns, the spokesperson said: "This is why we have the regulator, isn't it? If anyone thinks there is a problem, then Ofqual can check it out.
"We are happy to look at other ways to show them how we are using technology to modernise awarding."
Edexcel says a majority of its A-level and GCSE grade boundary decisions are now taken online. But unlike OCR, the board holds virtual awarding meetings in real time which heads can "attend" by logging onto a computer at Edexcel's London headquarters.
AQA, the largest board, said it was considering moving its awarding meetings online but would not be doing so this summer.
Sue Kirkham from the Association of School and College Leaders said: "It would be very unfortunate if one awarding body were to say we couldn't take part. We want to be able to speak about the results this summer in an informed way."