Ministers accused of 'creating a monster' by allowing pupils to use mocks to appeal A-level grades

Camilla Turner
·2-min read
Headteachers said the Government’s last minute change to include mocks in the appeals system “beggars belief”
Headteachers said the Government’s last minute change to include mocks in the appeals system “beggars belief”

Ministers have been accused of “creating a monster” by allowing pupils to use their mock exams to appeal against A-level grades, amid warnings that the new system is ripe for cheating.

The Government’s eleventh hour change to this year’s appeal system prompted a backlash among headteachers who said mocks are not good evidence of a pupil’s ability.

On Wednesday night, the education secretary Gavin Williamson announced that A-level pupils will be given a “safety net” whereby they can use their mock exam result as the basis for an appeal against the grade the receive.

But the move was met with a barrage of criticism from teachers who said mocks vary hugely from school to school, with some marking purposely harshly to encourage pupils to knuckle down and revise ahead of their actual exams. 

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said the Government’s last minute change to include mocks in the appeals system “beggars belief”.

He explained: “Mocks as not good evidence – sometimes they are used to motivate the lazy boy or girl into working, or sometimes they are used to reassure.

“They are a subjective internal mechanism. This has caused a real sense of dismay, we are seeing some very anguished people in schools.”

Emma Stanley, an English teacher said that mocks are “unreliable”, adding: “I feel they’ve created a monster”.

James Handscombe, principal Harris Westminster Sixth Form, said mocks were not robust enough to be used to determine grades as exam security is usually “not up to scratch – and certainly nobody has checked that it was”.

He added: “Students won't have been given as much revision time or support and will not all have treated mocks in the way they treat final exams.”

Mark Shepstone, an assistant headteacher, told of a colleague at a nearby school who was annoyed because “within the department of three, one had told his classes what would be on the mock. The other 2 hadn’t. Their mock results weren’t even fair or reliable within their school."

Universities were also taken aback by the Government’s announcement on Wednesday, saying the new grounds for appeal “represents a number of challenges” for admissions tutors.

Prof Julia Buckingham, president of Universities UK, said that vice-Chancellors are “seeking urgent clarification from the Department for Education on a range of issues including the likely scale and timing of appeals”.

 Yesterday [WED] the schools minister admitted that almost half of A-level grades will be downgraded from teachers’ predictions under the current grading system.

Nick Gibb confirmed that 40 per cent of grades submitted to exam boards by schools will be “adjusted” downwards by a statistical model.