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Let schools appeal against exam marks to a new independent watchdog, says board head


The head of the UK’s largest schools' exams board has suggested that teachers should be able to appeal against examiners’ judgements through an independent ombudsman.

Andrew Hall, AQA chief executive told TES he could understand schools' annoyance when they discovered that appeals to exam boards only looked at whether the correct process had been followed, not actual marking judgements. He wants a completely new approach. 
“Schools quite often go in particularly frustrated with an outcome they’ve got,” he said. “What they really think, sometimes, is that what they are appealing against is the results or the marking and it’s not.
“Should we be saying ‘there should be some sort of ombudsman where schools feel really aggrieved and just think that an awarding body has just got it so wrong’ and they can go to an appeal on that basis?”
Ofqual, the exams regulator, is already committed to a “fundamental” overhaul of the appeals system. It warned last month that schools were exploiting existing arrangements with “speculative” appeals.
The watchdog also wants to ensure a reformed system will pick up “genuine marking errors”, but it has not said whether appeals should go to an independent third party.
At the moment schools can make begin by making “enquires about results” where exam boards carry out clerical checks on marking and ensure the mark scheme has been followed correctly.
Mr Hall said this system was “fine”, although Ofqual has noted that many schools would prefer it to involve a “blind re-mark” to avoid the risk of it simply “rubber-stamping” the original decision.
The next option is a two stage appeal to the exam board, followed by a possible final appeal to an independent Examinations Procedures Review Service panel chaired by Ofqual. But none of the appeals go beyond checking whether agreed procedures have been followed. 
“It is all about process,” Mr Hall said. “We produce our case, the school produces its case and invariably we have followed our process and the school goes away feeling frustrated.”
The Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC), representing elite independent schools, welcomed Mr Halls’ comments. It published a report in 2012 warning that the appeals system was “focused on the wrong target” – checks on due process rather marking accuracy.
Mr Hall thinks that in certain circumstances it should be possible for markers’ decisions to be independently re-examined.“You don’t want to have it where just everything ends up going there – someone doesn’t like a grade by one mark,” he said. “It has to have a high hurdle.
“But you need it for that thing where a school just thinks it is so, so wrong – where there is an incandescent feeling about it. If we could find some sort an independent appeal against that part of their marking it would be a good thing to do.
“As an industry we really need to sit up and think about this because it is clearly a source of tension for our customers.”
HMC general secretary William Richardson, said: “It is very encouraging to see that one of the main awarding bodies in England is agreeing that any reform to appeals must go beyond whether merely the internal procedures of the board have been followed.”
An Ofqual spokesperson said: “We want a new appeals system in place in time for summer 2015 [which] will be more transparent and fairer to students, and crucially, will be designed to identify genuine marking errors and to distinguish these from legitimate differences of opinion between markers where there is no absolute right mark.”

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