GCSEs: What if you don't get the grades?

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GCSE candidate
Image caption,
GCSE passes are generally required to move on to sixth form

As hundreds of thousands of pupils await their GCSE grades, Ofqual's Exams Doctor George Turnbull gives his advice on what to do if you do not get the grades you need.

It never rains but it pours. Or so it must seem to the 650,000 or so GCSE candidates receiving results - especially after the squeeze on university places last week.

For many of those with courses at stake in school and college sixth forms, there will be the realisation that the path from GCSE to university is no longer as smooth as it once was.

Some may be forced to change their aspirations, grasping that unless they up their game, they may have to re-think their career path sooner rather than later.

So what can you do if your grades fail to impress?

In any event, be at your school to pick up your results.

Speak to your teachers about re-marks and other services available, if you fall short on grades.

Such requests must be channelled through the school. Make sure that someone in the school has the matter in hand and is taking action.

And if you are not there in person, have a plan B to sort things out.

Be ready for any eventuality - when you go along to your chosen sixth form school or college with your results.

They will talk through what your options are and hopefully offer you a place on a course - perhaps not the one you intended to follow if your grades do not make the mark - or they may even suggest that you go elsewhere.

You have that option and do not have to accept the course offered.

'Look forward'

How individual schools and colleges react will differ, but persevere if you want a place, especially if you have only missed out marginally on a grade and are awaiting the outcome of a re-mark or other enquiry service from the exam board.

Some may allow you to begin the A-level course pending the outcome of the enquiry, and some may not.

They will take all matters into consideration as to whether or not you would benefit from an A-level course in that subject.

And if all else fails and you do not make it to the sixth form to follow your preferred course, there are many other options available: work - voluntary or paid - apprenticeships, further education - or sailing round the world single-handed, as a 14-year-old Dutch girl is now attempting to do.

Explore some of the possibilities at Connexions or contact me at examsdoctor@ofqual.gov.uk for a detailed and personal response to your question.

Look forward and not back. Opportunities are there for those who take them.

Could the examining board have got it wrong?

Yes, is the short answer.

Mistakes do happen - especially as one mark might make the difference between an A and a B if you are at the top of the B band - as with other grades too.

And although this could hardly be judged as an error as such, that extra mark would give a higher grade, and perhaps secure that elusive place.

Extreme measures are taken to ensure the accuracy of the grades awarded - and that they truly reflect each student's abilities, on the basis of the exam work submitted.

The independent regulator, Ofqual, will monitor the whole process.

It is a truly professional operation with the interests of students, fairness and rigour, at its heart.

But with an estimated 26m A-level and GCSE examination papers from one million students to be marked by 50,000 examiners and then graded, it is perhaps conceivable that something may give on occasion, despite the many checks, double checks and scrutinies that are built into the system.

Challenging grades

Marking is not an exact science and wherever human judgement is brought to bear, there will be professional differences of opinion, which the boards endeavour to ensure are kept to a minimum.

So that if a paper was re-marked and the examiner awarded an additional mark which produced a higher grade - if that paper were marked yet again, it may well revert to the original mark and grade.

Challenging your grades is relatively straightforward.

But only your school can do this on your behalf, by raising an enquiry about your results with the exam board.

Such action needs to be approved by you as your grades can go up as well as down, or simply remain as they are.

So generally speaking, if you are already at the bottom of a grade band, the loss of a mark will put you down a grade, and a lot of marks would need to be gained in order to get you onto a higher grade level. A fee is charged for these services.

Deadline dates and costs

Your school can request photocopies of exam scripts, or actual scripts. It can ask for a clerical check from around £7 and a re-mark from about £33 for each GCSE component or module. The check will ensure that marks are recorded and transferred correctly and that totals are correct - whereas re-marks entail the re-marking of your script by a senior examiner.

Fees generally will vary across the boards, but the closing date for all enquiries is 20 September. Fees are mostly paid by the school and will be refunded if there is a grade change.

Still unhappy?

But if still unhappy because your grades are unchanged, lowered or not raised enough, your school can take the matter further by lodging an appeal with the examining board.

An internal investigation would then be held in up to two stages, the latter stage involving an independent scrutineer.

If the matter is still not resolved, then the case could be taken by your school to an external and independent appeal through the Examinations Appeals Board:

But that entire process will take time and is unlikely to affect your grades immediately, if at all. Only a handful of cases are ever reviewed in this way.

You can contact me at examsdoctor@ofqual.gov.uk for a personal and detailed response to your questions. Or visit my web page.

George Turnbull is Ofqual's Exams Doctor and takes questions from students and the general public on examinations and related issues. For almost 30 years he held various senior positions with the UK's largest examining board.

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