Schools face legal claims from disgruntled students over predicted A-level and GCSE grades, lawyers warn

Camilla Turner
Teachers are meant to "submit their judgment about the grade that they believe the student would have received if exams had gone ahead"

Schools face legal claims from disgruntled students over their predicted A-level and GCSE grades, lawyers have warned.

Teachers could be hit with a “flurry” of claims from pupils who are unhappy with their marks and believe that they have been unfairly discriminated against.

In March, the Government announced no exams would take place this summer and all students due to take their GCSEs and A Levels would instead receive predicted grades.

June 12 was the deadline for schools to submit predicted grades to exam boards based on a combination of pupils' mock exam results, if they have them, and other "non-exam assessment".

Teachers are meant to "submit their judgment about the grade that they believe the student would have received if exams had gone ahead" to the relevant exam board, according to the exam watchdog Ofqual.

A moderation process will then take place and students will be awarded their final grades by the exam boards in August.

Michael Brotherton, a partner at the law firm Stone King’s education division, said that while exam boards decide the final grade the “door remains slightly ajar” for pupils who feel they have been wrongly graded and want to take legal action against their school.  

“There is potential for some significant push back from pupils and parents once results are published, perhaps believing that their exam grade is not a fair one,” he said.   

“If pupils are unhappy with their grades and feel it may be as a result of bias or incompetence by their teacher or their school, pupils will be able to access their personal data from their school after results are published and could use this as the basis for a legal challenge against the school.”  

He added: “It is possible that there may be flurry of parents or pupils initiating a claim against their school with the potential that such claims could be publicly funded.”  

The UK’s equality watchdog has previously warned teachers over “unconscious bias” amid fears that ethnic minorities and poor children could be given incorrect GCSE or A-level grade predictions.  

The Equality Human Rights Commission said that relying on teachers’ predictions when awarding grades carries a risk of “unconscious or conscious bias”.

Meanwhile, an equality impact carried out by Ofqual found that black and Asian students are more likely to have their grades over-predicted than their white peers, the exam watchdog has found.

Pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds are also more likely to be given overly generous predictions by their teachers, the watchdog’s analysis found. Students are only allowed to appeal this year on technical grounds, and otherwise can take an "appeal exam" in autumn to prove they could do better than their predicted grade. 

Mr Brotherton said that normally grade appeals are made by the school to exam boards on behalf of pupils, but this year the difference is that schools are part of the grading process as well the exam boards.  

He said that courts would be unlikely to find in favour of claims from pupils as it would involve “unpicking teachers’ professional judgement, which courts are historically reluctant to do”.  

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “Schools and colleges know their students well and will award centre-assessed grades accurately and fairly based on robust evidence of past performance.  

"We are sure that the vast majority of students and parents understand the challenging nature of this situation, are supportive of their schools and colleges, and will not embark on costly and time-consuming legal challenges and subject access requests which will serve only to make an onerous situation worse.”  

An Ofqual spokesman said that the arrangements in place for this summer are the “fairest” way for students to receive their grades. “Students who do not feel their calculated grade reflects their performance will also have the opportunity to sit an exam in the autumn,” they added.