Schools and colleges across North Devon and Torridge will be launching appeals against the grading of this year’s A-levels after many students were downgraded.

Students Harry Mayes (left), 18, from Stoke Newington in north London, and Molly Ford (right) take part in a protest in Westminster in London, calling on the Government and exam boards to trust their teachers. Picture: Emma Bowden/PA WireStudents Harry Mayes (left), 18, from Stoke Newington in north London, and Molly Ford (right) take part in a protest in Westminster in London, calling on the Government and exam boards to trust their teachers. Picture: Emma Bowden/PA Wire

Petroc is appealing to exam boards on behalf of its entire cohort of A-level students, while Ilfracombe and West Buckland School are appealing the results for a number of subjects which had large class sizes.

Across the country the Government is being urged to act after thousands of students were downgraded when they got their results on Thursday, August 13.

Because no exams could take place due to the coronavirus pandemic, teachers were asked to submit the grades they thought a student would receive and then these were moderated by the exam board – reports say that nationally two in five grades have been downgraded.

North Devon MP Selaine Saxby has been speaking to the heads of local sixth form colleges and said there was an understandable feeling the grading had not been fair.

Sean Mackney, principal and CEO at Petroc College said appeals against the decision of exam boards would cost about £100 each, which is refunded if the appeal is successful.

He said: “This is a cost per subject, so is still a sum for our centre appeal of more than £2,500 for Petroc A-levels, but it is the right thing to do, and is a price Petroc will pay to get the right results for our students. We will not be passing that on to students or parents.

“It is wrong that our hard-working students have not been given the grades they deserved and which their tutors assessed them as having achieved. Petroc A level learners achieve excellence nationally, and this year is no exception.”

Mr Mackney said it was ‘clear something had gone wrong’ as Petroc’s number of top grades at A and A* had dropped by eight per cent, when college lecturers had predicted a slight increase, in line with its annual trend.

He added: “The regulations identify grounds for appeal, which apply in Petroc’s case and the Government has said that students’ grades are protected so cannot be downgraded following an appeal.

“One anomaly with the algorithm exam boards have used is that it appears to work to the disadvantage of strong colleges like Petroc which add most value to students’ grades over and above their GCSE performance in schools, helping them progress further.

“Any system that works to penalise the best cannot be right.”

Ms Saxby said in her conversation with heads they had reported that universities have been very helpful to students who have not received the grades that they were hoping for.

She said: “In many cases I have discussed the grading does not fully represent the situation of the students in the class.

“Teachers were asked to rank students, and this ranking appears to have caused a number of issues, where students were comparable, yet one had to be placed above another, often resulting in a grade difference.

“However, it is important to remember that last year, nationally, 79 per cent of students did not meet their predicted grades and had we accepted all the forecast grades this year there would have been a 12 per cent grade inflation which may also have disadvantaged these students in later life.

“I have written to the Department of Education and asked that the appeals process be swift, despite the large volume of appeals that seem to be forthcoming, so no student misses out on a university place, and so decisions are taken before the entries for autumn resits.

“I have also asked that the methodology for grading GCSE students next week is revisited ahead of these results being delivered to students, to avoid a repeat of the situation where rank has caused issues at grade boundaries.”

North Devon Liberal Democrats have called on the Government to ensure the appeals are free.

Spokesman Alex White said: “It is completely unacceptable for any student to be downgraded based on their family income, or any other factor.

“What’s more, our local students should not be disadvantaged due to the underfunding of schools in North Devon.

“I’m conscious that this shouldn’t be politicised - this is about ensuring fairness for our young people in North Devon, I’m calling on the Government and the Tory MP for North Devon to ensure these students get free access to appeals.”

Will Topps, an English teacher at Pilton Community College as well a Bickington district councillor, has called for the problem to be fixed before GCSEs come out on August 20.

He said: “I and my colleagues spent hours agonising over what grades to award to students and as a school we worked really hard to make sure these reflected results from previous years, with some improvement based on hard evidence.

“I know teachers at other schools and lecturers at Petroc did the same. I’m angry the government seems to have ignored this hard work and used an algorithm to award A-level results which are harsh and unfair.

“I’m worried the same will happen next week with GCSE results and it will be heart-breaking to see students I’ve taught for three years given lower grades than I know they could have achieved.

“I hope the government will recognise the mess it has made of A-level results and realise it’s not too late to fix it. The government asked teachers to come up with centre assessed grades for students - all it needs to do is trust teachers and use them. Downgrading results doesn’t benefit anyone.”

**** Were your A-level results downgraded, or those of your son or daughter? We would like to hear from local people who have been affected by the situation. Email or post a comment on our Facebook page.