Cyprus Mail
Cyprus Education

Private schools prepare to challenge unfair A level grades

Private schools in Cyprus have said they are preparing to appeal at least some of their students’ A level grades which were released on Thursday, joining thousands of schools across England in objecting to the way grades were calculated this year.

With exams cancelled because of the pandemic, results were due to be based on the teacher’s assessment of a student’s overall work and mock exam results, the student’s ranking in the class and then moderated by exam boards via an algorithm which also factored in a school’s past track record.

The latter has become the main bone of contention, as the system works well for the student if the school has a good record, but can be disastrous for the brighter students at a school with an average or poorer record.

“In England, 36 per cent of entries had a lower grade than teachers predicted and 3 per cent were down two grades, in results for exams cancelled by the pandemic,” the BBC reported on Thursday.

An examination officer from one Nicosia private school said that only 38 per cent of the school’s predicted grades were left the same. From the rest, 44 per cent went down by one grade, 17 per cent went down by two grades and one per cent went down by three grades.

“Overall outcome: total mess with bright students missing their offers,” he said. “For most of them, the clearing facility of UCAS is an option. For high achievers though opting for top schools or medicine, clearing cannot provide an option.”

“It is not fair,” an exams advisor from another Nicosia private school told the Cyprus Mail. “Students were downgraded, and we don’t know why. They said they took into account 2017 to 2019 [school results] but students should not be judged by previous results.”

There is no logic to this system, she added. “Some students were graded as the teachers predicted. It is a mixture. One A* student for example was graded down two letters, and one average student got the predicted grade.”

The school is now considering its options. First, they will ask for a review of cases, then according to the results they may appeal.

But what is worrying are the long-term repercussions, the advisor said. “It is very unfair for the students. They are very disappointed.”

Madeleine Kelpi, examinations officer at the International School of Paphos, was equally upset.

She said the school has been generally pleased with their GCSE results so far, some of which were released on Tuesday, but was very disappointed with many of the AS and A Level results.

Many of the grades achieved were compatible with what the school had submitted she said, but there were still many students who have been treated very unfairly.

“It is apparent that the examination boards have not only not taken into account our submitted grades but have also completely disregarded their prior achievements at GCSE level or at AS level,” she said.

She cited the example of a student who was awarded a B grade at AS Level, was predicted a B grade by the school but ended up with an E.

“This is unacceptable and as a school we are devastated,” Kelpi said.

“Why did they ask us to submit these grades if they were not prepared to examine each student’s prior achievement? We will not accept this lying down and are in constant communication with examination boards challenging them.

“We fully understand that this year is unprecedented and mistakes will occur, but in many cases we are talking about the student’s future. They may not get into their first choice for university and their future may take a completely different direction.”

A complicating factor is that it a student leaves it until next year to apply to a UK university and takes a resit in November they will have to pay far higher fees because the UK is ending the home fee status for European students from September 2021.

“We are challenging the exam boards and are hoping that the decisions made will be favourable to our students who have been working so hard,” Kelpi said.

Students also commented on the unfairness.

“I am very lucky because my school has a great track record,” an English school graduate who did well told the Cyprus Mail. “But other schools may not have this privilege. When I watch other schools, it is easy to see how bad it can get. We were very scared about what might happen. At some places, students were downgraded from an A* to a B or C.”

Isabella Luoma, a graduate from the Senior School in Nicosia, said she was also satisfied with her own results, but was critical regarding the overall situation.

“I’d say there is nothing you can do if you are not happy about it. You can’t request remarking, and I was told you can only resit in November. It is a problem if you miss your grade by a small margin.”

In an attempt to stave off the growing row, England’s education minister Gavin Williamson said on Wednesday that students would now have the option of choosing between using their calculated grade, or deciding to go with their mock result, or sit a new exam in the autumn.

That means no-one will get an outcome lower than their mock result, exams that are usually taken at the beginning of the year.

The problem in Cyprus is that some schools do not hold their mock exams in January or February, as they do in England, but in March. By this time coronavirus restrictions made it impossible to hold them. Even if they were, using mocks as a final grade is considered problematic.

“It is a well-known fact that students do not usually perform as well in the mocks since they have not been revising as intensively as they would for the actual exams,” Kelpi commented.

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