What you need to know about exam appeals

18th December 2015 at 00:00
How the SQA’s new appeals system fared in its second year

Scotland’s new exam appeals system has cost councils and schools almost £300,000 in 2015, TESS can reveal.

The numbers show that appeals under the new system, which was introduced in 2014, rose by 43 per cent on the previous year. The new figures have prompted Scottish Labour to renew its calls for the Scottish government to hold a review of what went wrong in this year’s exam diet and why.

The party first made the call in the wake of the Higher maths exam, which examination body the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) has admitted was too hard.

Here we tell you everything you need to know about the new appeals system.

Why was a new system introduced?

The new system ran for the first time last year and coincided with the introduction of the new National qualifications. The new appeals process was introduced in response to the rising number of appeals to SQA.

In the past, the SQA has criticised schools for wasting its time and resources with too many speculative appeals. The system was originally intended as a safety net for exceptional cases but ended up being widely used.

In 2013, the SQA received 67,000 requests, which meant that about 7 per cent of exam entries were appealed. Fewer than half of the appeals were successful and the process cost the body almost £800,000.

How does the new system deter schools from appealing grades?

Financially. There’s a charge for schools or councils if the grade remains the same once checks have been carried out. Three services are available to schools and colleges:

A clerical check – which costs £10 and ensures that all exam marks have been correctly totalled.

A marking review – which costs £ 29.75. It involves exam materials being reviewed to ensure that the original marker followed the examination board’s agreed marking scheme and that the paper has been marked to the nationally agreed standard. It also includes a clerical check.

A priority marking review – which costs £39.75. It is the same as a marking review but is prioritised – schools mainly use this option for candidates who have a university place pending on the outcome of the review.

However, if a school wants to make appeal a student’s results through the exceptional circumstances consideration service, this is free. A case for exceptional circumstances can be made by schools for individual cases where they believe, for example, that a student has suffered because of personal issues, such as bereavement or illness. Schools can submit a wider range of evidence than in the past to support these claims.

If there is a cost, who pays?

If the appeal is unsuccessful, either the council or the school pays, depending on where you are in Scotland. If the appeal is successful, the cost is borne by the SQA.

How many appeals were there this year?

There were 12,077 appeals, according to SQA figures published this month. That number is considerably fewer than the 67,740 received in 2013 ahead of the introduction of the new system, but far higher than the 8,448 appeals the SQA received last year.

This year, schools requested reviews for 2.4 per cent of exam entries. Last year, there were far fewer appeals; 1.6 per cent of entries were looked at. An SQA spokesperson said that the body had always anticipated an increased number of requests in the second year of the new system as schools and colleges became more familiar with the service.

What proportion of exam appeals ended up being successful?

This year, figures show that 2.9 per cent of clerical checks, 19.5 per cent of marking reviews and 26.3 per cent of priority marking reviews were successful. The most common request was for a marking review – there were 11,437 of these carried out this year.

How much did the appeals process cost schools and councils this year?

TESS calculates that the process will have cost schools and councils the best part of £300,000 (£291,432, to be precise).

But overall, is the new system having the desired effect – after all, the number of appeals are down from 2013?

Appeals are down and there was a general consensus that mass speculative appeals had to end. However, there are concerns the new system could lead to inequalities, especially in authorities where schools have to pay. As the Scottish Conservative’s Liz Smith put it, the decision about whether or not to appeal should be based on academic merit, rather than the ability to pay. There is also a feeling that the current set-up favours pupils in the independent sector, where it’s assumed that schools will be better able to absorb the charges associated with appeals.


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