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String of errors that led to A-level upset

Ella Nwaokolo was shocked by her history result, but college and exam board errors meant she never got a re-mark and was rejected by her universities, reports James Sturke

College student Ella Nwaokolo came out of her A-level exam knowing she had done well.

After talking with friends about the Third Reich paper she felt even better - it was her strongest module and she had made all the improvements City College Norwich teachers suggested after scoring a B in her mock.

So she was baffled and angry when her result came back two months later - a C overall and a U in that module.

She told the college she wanted a re-mark and it included her name on a list of students which was faxed to the exam board.

But a combination of errors by Edexcel and the college meant her name fell off the re-mark list and her paper was destroyed before a re-mark could take place.

Red-faced college bosses later apologised and Edexcel promised to look again at her case, but in the meantime Ella was rejected by her first and second choice universities. Now, backed by her MP, she is fighting for a change to the system that let her down.

Ella, 20, from King's Lynn, said: "I have lost out through no fault of my own. I want a change so my overall mark can be decided by the uncontentious modules that remain and my mock results.

"I was predicted an A in history, got a B in my mock and am sure I did nothing wrong in the exam. After the low history grade, Leeds and York universities refused me.

"The only options I have been given are to accept the C or resit the module. I'm now in my second year studying modern history at Liverpool and can't study here and revise A-levels together."

She said the problems started after City College faxed Edexcel the names of students wanting re-marks. The exam board sent a return fax to confirm the names but the college failed to realise Ella's name had been excluded.

Forbidden by regulator rules to deal directly with Edexcel, Ella repeatedly called City College in the following months demanding news on her re-mark.

Her worst fears were confirmed in April this year when she was told Edexcel, in accordance with normal procedures, had destroyed her paper.

Ella's mother Helena, a former headteacher, said: "The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority looked into it and said her name was on the original fax to Edexcel but not on the confirmation.

"I've written to the Department for Education and Skills, Charles Clarke, the college, the QCA, the Learning and Skills Council and Edexcel. I am running up against a brick wall. I thought I knew the system but it is incredibly frustrating. The college has apologised but that will not help Ella."

In a letter to Ms Nwaokolo, Pauline Wilcock, the college assistant principal, wrote: "It is clear that when Edexcel failed to respond to our request for a re-mark, we should have pursued the matter with them sooner.

We have not met the high standards which students and their parents correctly expect from us ... and for this I apologise."

She added the college had been told by an Edexcel appeals officer it was unlikely a re-mark would have changed Ella's overall grade.

But Edexcel was unable to confirm that. Frank Wingate, the exam board's external relations manager, told FE Focus: "Ella gained a C and had been predicted a B and because of her disappointment declined the grade on September 20 last year. We have no record of an inquiry after results on our system. There are safeguards in the system. I would urge the college to pick up the case with us. These things are not set in stone. The doors are open if there was a genuine injustice done."

Henry Bellingham, MP for north-west Norfolk, said: "Where something has happened beyond the control of the student and cannot be redressed then the guidelines have to be changed to reflect common sense.

"The only solution that is fair for the student whose whole future career may depend on it is to look at the other papers and therefore upgrade the results on that basis."

Mr Bellingham passed on his concerns to schools minister David Miliband, who wrote back saying: "My officials contacted QCA about the issues raised in Ms Nwaokolo's letter. It appears there was some confusion between both City College Norwich and the awarding body.

"It was an unfortunate set of circumstances which sadly means Ella's history module cannot now be re-marked.

"Awarding body procedures have been tightened and we and QCA are determined to ensure that incidents such as these are kept to an absolute minimum."

A spokesman for the college said a list of names was sent to Edexcel for re-marking. They received no acknowledgement. "We received individual responses from that list, so the alarm bell did not ring for some time.

Yes, we were at fault because we did not chase it hard enough, and for that we apologise, and have done so to Ella's family.

"Once we realised what had happened we made strong representations on Ella's behalf." The college had made a formal complaint to Edexcel, he said.

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