GCSEs and A levels 2021: A guide to appealing grades

Appeals will not happen as normal this year. So what can students do if they are not happy with their results? Here's a rundown of the options available

Grainne Hallahan

GCSEs and A levels 2021: How students can appeal their grades

This year's GCSE and A-level results have been calculated without students sitting exams. Instead, the marks have been awarded using teacher-assessed grades (TAGs).

But what if a student isn’t happy with their grade or something has gone wrong in the process? This is where the appeals process comes in – and there's a lot to it. We've laid out the key elements below.

GCSEs and A levels 2021: the appeals process, explained

The two stages of appeals

This year, there are two stages to the appeals process.

Stage one is the centre review. The school or college where the student sat their exam is their centre. As such, students can request schools or colleges conduct a review to identify any administrative error in their grade. If one is found, then the school or college will contact the exam board and the student's grade may go up, down or stay the same.

Stage two is the appeal. If the centre review does not find an administrative error has been made, then the student may appeal to the exam board. The school will do this on the student's behalf.

Before an appeal can be lodged, a centre review must be conducted. If it hasn't been conducted, then the appeal will be rejected.

What reasons can students appeal their grade?

Students can appeal their grades if they feel their TAG is wrong, but this will be looked at by awarding bodies rather than schools or colleges.

The JCQ guidance says: "Requests for appeals on the grounds of academic judgement (unreasonableness) will only be considered by awarding organisations and not by centres.

"In these cases, an initial centre review must still be completed to ensure that the centre has not made any procedural or administrative errors. The centre should not review its academic judgements during the centre review stage."

What will a student need to make their centre review?

All students must be given the following documents in order to make their request for a centre review:

  • The centre policy.
  • The sources of evidence used to determine the student’s grade, along with the marks/grades associated with them.
  • Details of any variations in evidence used based on disruption to what that student was taught.
  • Details of any special circumstances that have been considered in determining their grade, such as access arrangements/reasonable adjustments or mitigating circumstances, such as illness.

What date do centre reviews have to be completed by?

There are two key dates for centre reviews:

  • 16 August 2021 for priority appeals, where you have students applying to higher education who did not attain their firm choice for university. 
  • 3 September 2021 for all other cases.

Why might a student ask for a centre review?

A student can ask for a centre review if they believe the centre made an administrative error, for example, an incorrect grade was submitted or an incorrect assessment mark was used when determining the grade. 

The second reason you may have to conduct a centre review is that the student believes the centre did not apply a procedure correctly. 

For example, the centre did not follow its centre policy, or it did not undertake internal quality assurance, or it did not take into account access arrangements or mitigating circumstances such as illness.

What happens after a centre review?

Following the review, the centre needs to decide whether this affected the grade submitted to the awarding organisation, and the resulting outcome may be that the grade is raised, stays the same or is lowered, depending on the impact of the error or failure.

What if a student isn't happy with the outcome of the centre review and wants to appeal?

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

There are three circumstances in which a student can appeal:

  • The centre did not follow its procedure properly or consistently in arriving at the result, or during the centre review.
  • The awarding organisation made an administrative error in relation to the result.
  • The centre made an unreasonable exercise of academic judgement in the choice of evidence from which to determine the grade and/or the determination of that grade from the evidence.

What date do TAG appeals have to be submitted by?

There are two key dates for TAG appeals:

  • 23 August 2021 for priority appeals, where students are applying to higher education who did not attain their firm choice.
  • 17 September 2021 for non-priority appeals.

What can students do if they are still unhappy with their grade?

Students will have an opportunity to resit their GCSEs and A levels in the autumn exam series in November 2021.

Exams dates are still to be announced and the deadline for entry is likely to be late September to early October.

All subjects will be available for students to resit, and students must sit their exam in the centre where they sat their original GCSE. You can read more about the autumn series here.

How much will appeals cost?

This year there will be no charge for appeals.

Could a student's GCSE, Btec or A-level grade go down if I appeal?

Yes. Ofqual has confirmed that, for this year, grades can be moved down as a result of an appeal. Students must be made aware of this fact when asking for a centre review.

Will any students have to resit their GCSEs?

As in previous years, students who do not obtain grade 4 or above in English language or literature and/or mathematics will have to resit either in autumn 2021 or summer 2022, or enter for a different qualification. You can read more about this here.

What advice is there for students who aren’t sure what to do next?

The Department for Education has set up an exam results helpline, which can be reached on 0800 100 900, and more information is available at nationalcareers.service.gov.uk

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Grainne Hallahan

Grainne Hallahan

Grainne Hallahan is Tes recruitment editor and senior content writer at Tes

Find me on Twitter @heymrshallahan

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