Student fails in court battle over pandemic exam assessment grades

A student in Northern Ireland has lost a High Court battle over A-level grades awarded to her when exams were cancelled due to the pandemic.

By The Newsroom
Wednesday, 6th April 2022, 8:44 am

Described as a member of the “class of 2020”, she took legal action after the assessment process used amid disruptions caused by Covid resulted in her obtaining just one of the four A* (star) grades she hoped to achieve.

But a judge dismissed challenges against her ex-school and exams body CCEA which included claims of procedural unfairness and a breach of human rights.

Mr Justice Humphreys ruled yesterday: “This court was never in a position to upset the professional judgment of the teachers at her former school.”

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Students taking exams

The student at the centre of the case was granted anonymity on medical grounds.

She had been due to sit exams in four A-level subjects in 2020, but was instead awarded grades through a process where teachers submitted pupils’ predicted marks for standardisation by CCEA.

The system led to her being issued one A* and three A grades in August 2020.

When informed that they were the same as the school’s assessment, her parents sought an urgent explanation about its methodology.

Days later, former education minister Peter Weir scrapped the policy and announced that pupils would be able to receive higher grades if predicted by teachers.

During an internal appeals process the student’s parents argued that she should have been given A* assessments, criticised the model used, and alleged a discriminatory failure to take GCSE marks into account.

Failures to properly consider the impact of her medical condition on ability to study, and the “unconscious bias” of one teacher were also claimed.

In an application for leave to seek a judicial review, she sought to challenge three separate decisions:

l A failure by the school to appeal her grades to CCEA;

l The school’s decision not to allow her internal appeal;

l The decision of CCEA not to uphold a complaint of malpractice.

Ruling on the case, Mr Justice Humphreys praised the resilience shown by her and others whose A-level studies were disrupted once the pandemic began in March 2020, leaving them with “an educational experience like no other in living memory”.

He went on: “The applicant in this case is a member of the class of 2020.

“Not only did she face the same issues as her contemporaries, she has also coped remarkably with a debilitating medical condition.”

Ultimately, however, he held that the grounds of legal challenge were unarguable.