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Changes to Ofqual’s review & appeal process – what you need to know

Image credit: On target by Roger Smith - licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Changes to Ofqual’s review & appeal process – what you need to know

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Lindsey ThomasLindsey Thomas is an educational consultant and experienced senior examiner and moderator. You can contact Lindsey via Twitter at @lteducation or through

Yesterday, Ofqual published changes to be made to the rules about how exam boards (Awarding Bodies) deal with the remarking of papers, often referred to as ‘reviews’ or Enquiries about Results.

Some useful background

A bit of background might be useful here:

Examiners and moderators at GCSE and A level are thoroughly trained and monitored. I work on a paper which is marked online – i.e. all the scripts are scanned in and I then mark on-screen. The training I go through is standard. I am taken through the exam paper and mark scheme, in almost painful detail, by the Principal Examiner, who then goes through the marking of a range of scripts (in my case it was six) pretty much word by word, explaining the application of the mark scheme. Then I have to ‘self-test’ on a further 6 scripts: I mark them and can then reveal the ‘definitive marks’ to see if I’m accurate or how I might need to adjust what I’m doing. I then mark another 10 standardisation scripts which are reviewed by my supervisor, and, if needed, I have to remark them until I get them right. This is the first monitoring point; if it looks like I won’t be able mark well, I’m removed from the panel.

Once I’m ‘approved’ I move onto ‘live’ scripts but every 20 or so, a ‘seed’ script drops into my inbox. This looks to me like any other script but is in fact a pre-marked script. When I mark it, it is sent to my supervisor to check that I have got the marking right, and the first I know of it is when I get feedback from the supervisor. The supervisor can also access all the scripts I mark in order to monitor what I’m doing. If, at any point, it’s felt that I’m not marking accurately and consistently, I can be removed from the panel.

All this should mean that the marking of candidates’ work should be accurate in the first place.

In the past, schools (‘centres’ in examining parlance) would ask for a remark (review) if there had been an administrative error – e.g. the marks had been added up incorrectly, or because there was a significant issue in the marking.  As the pressure on school results has increased, so has the number of requests for review. It’s not uncommon for schools to request reviews for individuals or even quite large groups whose marks leave them close to a grade boundary, in the hope that marks might be changed just enough to nudge them into the next grade, or even to just ‘take a punt’ on a pupil who was hoping for better. It’s also common for parents to apply pressure on a school to apply for a review.

Practical issues

Reviews cost money, up to about £50 per script. If the final grade changes as a result of the review, the fee is refunded to the school. If the marks are unchanged, or not changed enough to affect the final grade, the money is not refunded. This is where the unfairness can come in. If a school or parents can afford that risk, they can request a more ‘speculative’ review on borderline cases.

Under Ofqual’s revised rules, marks in reviews will only be changed if there is a ‘marking error’. If there is a clear ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ which has been marked incorrectly, marks will be changed. If the marking requires the examiner to exercise ‘academic judgement’ – usually this applies to longer responses or essay questions where the examiner has to balance the strengths and weaknesses of an answer, the marks will only be changed if the original mark is deemed to have been ‘unreasonable’. What is considered to be ‘unreasonable’ has yet to be defined by Ofqual but my guess it will be worked out on the basis of the percentage of marks available for the paper.

The intention of this is to discourage schools (centres) who can afford it from applying for ‘speculative’ reviews, and thereby reduce some of the unfairness to candidates who can’t afford to risk the fees. It won’t affect cases where there is a clear issue with the marking which has somehow ‘slipped through the net’.

At the same time, parents may have more access to the review system. Currently, only a school can apply for a review and so they, in effect, are gatekeepers of the process. Exam boards will now be able, if they choose, to accept requests for review directly from parents. This may be helpful to schools where there is a disagreement between the school and the parent about whether or not a review is appropriate.

This is often a fraught process and the period when results are issued is frequently busy, sometimes confused, and often a tumult of mixed emotions for all involved. If you have questions about anything above, please ask them in a comment below, or @ me on Twitter and I’ll do my utmost to answer.

Questions for governors
  • Do we have a policy on applying for reviews? What are the criteria for applying for a review: just individuals where there is an obvious issue or for many borderline students? Who pays? Who decides? Do departments have a consistent approach to this? Does the school have money available for this?
  • How do we ensure our teachers and exams officer are familiar with exam board practice and processes – what training do they have?
  • Do we encourage our teachers to become examiners? Teachers’ supply is covered for meetings they attend, but do we help them to manage the additional workload? Being an examiner in a subject is hugely beneficial to a school – do we recognise this in any way?

Image credit: On Target by Roger Smith – licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.


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