A levels 2021: 'Few requests' for legal help on appeals

Exclusive: 'Unsurprising' that a huge rise in appeals has not emerged given top grades awarded in 2021, say solicitors

Catherine Lough

GCSEs and A levels 2021: 'Few requests' for help on appeals, say lawyers

Education lawyers say they have faced "few" requests for advice on GCSE and A-level appeals from parents and students this year despite school leaders' fears over legal threats.

And heads say their fears over schools facing a huge number of appeals do not appear to have materialised.

In July, Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, raised concerns about the situation with appeals after hearing accounts of parents threatening to get lawyers involved over teacher-assessed grades.

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And in early August, prior to results being released, teachers' leaders criticised law firms lining up to "pick over" teachers' judgements of students and A-level grades as "immoral", while heads branded the practice as "depressing".

Exams regulator Ofqual also updated its advice on appeals the day after A-level results were released to say: "You do not need to take legal advice to help you to submit an appeal."

GCSEs and A levels 2021: No big rise in appeals

However, the feared surge in claims does not appear to have materialised after students received a record proportion of top grades on A-level results day. 

Roger Inman, a partner at leading education solicitors Stone King, told Tes: “Given the high percentage of top grades this year, it’s perhaps unsurprising that there are few requests for advice from schools and colleges regarding legal challenges to grades so far."

And Mr Barton said: "I think we had worried that there might be much more of a demand around the grading system with a lot more pressure being put on to teachers and accusatory fingers pointing their way for them being overly subjective and so on.

“A number of things happened to avoid that. One is that I think lots of people did lots of explanation, that this was not just your history teacher sticking the finger in the air and deciding what grade to give you as we explained the process behind all of that.

"Secondly, what happened is the majority of young people appear to have received grades they were pleased with."

Mr Barton said that there was also not as much of a "media spat" over grade inflation around this summer's teacher assessed grades as had been feared.

He added: "I think in that sense, it's been a lot calmer for the majority of people. We still will see when we get to the deadline after the start of term in terms of the appeals. The early signs are that we are not going to have a huge number of appeals that perhaps some of us thought we might face.”

There were two key dates for reviews of grades awarded by exam centres or schools:

  • 16 August for priority appeals, where students applying to higher education did not attain their firm choice for university. 
  • 3 September for all other cases.

If, after the centre review, a student is still unhappy with their grade, they have the option of appealing to the awarding body.

For priority appeals, the deadline was 23 August, and for non-priority appeals it is 17 September.

Mr Inman said he expected some claims to emerge after 17 September, "particular regarding alleged disability discrimination by schools and colleges".

However, so far, there are no signs of a rush of students seeking legal advice on appeals.

In 2020, Stone King dealt with one tribunal claim of alleged disability discrimination from a state school, one tribunal claim of alleged disability discrimination from a private school and two extensive complaints regarding the centre-assessed grades process from FE colleges.

In 2021, the firm has dealt with just two tribunal claims of alleged disability discrimination from state schools so far.

Over the summer, another law firm, Brandsmiths, launched a service for students wishing to challenge their teacher-assessed GCSE and A-level grades.

Tes has contacted Brandsmiths to ask how many appeals it has received this year from students, but has received no response.

Meanwhile, today MPs heard from Ofqual’s interim chief regulator, Simon Lebus, that the number of appeals over 2021 grades were in the "thousands but not tens of thousands".

He told the Commons Education Selecgt Committee this morning: “It's very much in line with last year, which I think was around 5,000.”

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author bio

Catherine Lough

Catherine Lough is a reporter at Tes.

Find me on Twitter @CathImogenLough

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