Appeals against grades issued this summer should be made directly to exam boards and not to schools and colleges, a group of unions and professional bodies has warned.

The ASCL and NAHT leadership unions, along with the National Education Union and NASUWT teaching unions, have teamed up with the National Governance Association and Association of Colleges to set out a list of principles they want to see in the government’s final plans for grades this year, due to be set out later this month.

Ministers announced last month that GCSEs, A-levels and vocational exams won’t go ahead as planned this summer following the decision to partially close schools. The government wants to replace them with teacher assessments.

In a consultation, which closed last Friday, exams regulator Ofqual proposed that students who believe there is an error in their grades should appeal to their school or college in the first instance, before taking the matter up with exam boards if the situation is not resolved by schools.

But the unions and professional bodies said in a joint statement today because exam boards retain responsibility for issuing grades, appeals “should therefore be made directly to awarding organisations and not to schools and colleges as suggested in the Ofqual/DfE consultation”.

It follows warnings from Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary at the National Education Union, that the approach could open a “pandora’s box of appeals” and cause “great anguish and workload for seemingly very little benefit”.

Under the appeals plan proposed by government, grades would only be changed if the original judgment was “not legitimate”.

Appeals would initially have to be considered by a “competent” person not involved in the assessment, which could include someone from another school.

If a student is still not happy, they can appeal to exam boards – but only if the school has “not acted in line with the exam board’s procedural requirements”, not to challenge the merits of the teacher assessment.

The unions’ principles also state that awarding organisations should set out what standard is required for students to achieve each grade.

These standards should also recognise that students may have studied less of the course than usual due to the pandemic.

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the NEU, said the document shows there is a “clear consensus amongst the profession on many of the issues”.

“For the sake of grades which are as fair and consistent as possible for all students, it is important that DfE and Ofqual now take on board the principles laid out here.”

Geoff Barton, ASCL general secretary, said it was “imperative that students are assessed as fairly and consistently as possible following the cancellation of exams, and that we avoid any repeat of the chaos of last summer”.

“We believe that the principles we have jointly set out will give us the best chance of achieving that objective.”

To read the principles in full, click here.