Cancelled exams 2020

19 Mar 2020

Yesterday’s announcement that schools will be indefinitely closed to the vast majority of pupils and that there will not be any examinations this summer have doubtless left many students delighted and many parents reeling.

Whilst this may not have been an entirely unexpected decision, aside from how parents will manage having children at home and the additional trials and tribulations that this will inevitably bring, many will now be faced with the additional worry of what this will mean for pupils in Year 11 and 13 due to take their GCSEs and A-Levels or other exams.

The prime minister’s words yesterday were somewhat opaque and raised more questions than they answered. The education secretary’s elaboration this morning has simply repeated that every child will receive their GCSE and A-Level grades without giving much further detail at this stage.

Which leads to the question of how can examination results be awarded in the absence of exams? Who gets to decide the grades- exam boards in conjunction with school staff? Or are they based upon predicted grades? If so, is this fair?

Many pupils may, for whatever reason, not have performed their best in their mock examinations and are capable of doing better. What if they were ill or absent during some of their mock examinations? Even if they were not, to what extent is it even possible to really judge the impact of all those additional weeks and months of teaching and revision to a pupil’s final grade? More importantly, who gets to be the arbiter of this highly subjective decision?

In the event people are not happy with the grade awarded what is their mechanism for challenging the same?

Currently individuals who are unhappy with their grades can seek a review to the relevant examination board via their school or college. Individuals who are taking exams privately and not via any institution can appeal themselves.

In the event that one is unhappy with the outcome of a review a school or individual can then appeal to Ofqual.

This process is likely to be put under considerable strain in the coming months and the government may well need to issue updated guidance around the same (further details are expected tomorrow), and ensure that individual exam boards and Ofqual are ready to deal with the inevitable avalanche of appeals.

Unfair advantage?

The process of reviewing exam grades comes at a cost to schools or individuals (in the event their grades are not changed) and it is likely that many state schools and individuals who can least afford it will be indirectly penalised if they find that they are unable to pay to challenge decisions due to a lack of resources. It is for this reason that under the current system, independent schools have often been accused of having an unfair advantage when it comes to appealing individual examination grades.

This unfairness is likely to be compounded when schools are faced with increased appeals and parents simply do not have the resources to meet the costs of appealing. Such a situation would be wholly unfair and open to challenge. With everything else facing the country at this time, this may not be a priority for now, but it will certainly be an issue for those impacted and one that is likely to be open to legal challenge, both by individual schools and parents and ultimately via judicial review proceedings in the event public law grounds for a challenge arise.


Shazia Akhtar

Call: 2001


This content is provided free of charge for information purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied on as such. No responsibility for the accuracy and/or correctness of the information and commentary set out in the article, or for any consequences of relying on it, is assumed or accepted by any member of Chambers or by Chambers as a whole.


Please note that we do not give legal advice on individual cases which may relate to this content other than by way of formal instruction of a member of Gatehouse Chambers. However, if you have any other queries about this content please contact: