From CAGs to TAGs – A Guide on Exam Results 2021

9 Aug 2021

Young people across the country are expecting their GCSE and A-Level results this week. This article contains a brief overview of the appeals process for any students wishing to appeal their grade(s).

The information has been taken from the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) Guidance on the determination of grades for A/AS Levels and GCSEs for Summer 2021 and Ofqual’s Student guide to awarding summer 2021.


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Appeal Process

  1. Centre Review

A Centre is your school/college that has issued the student’s grade. If the student believes they have been given the wrong grade, they can ask their Centre to see if an administrative or procedural error has been made.

If an error is found, the Centre will request that the awarding organisation corrects the grade.

Students need to be informed of the outcome of the Centre Review. If they wish to appeal to the Awarding Organisation, a student must submit a request to their Centre to submit the appeal.

The Social Mobility Foundation has devised a number of helpful resources that can be used including a template letter, requesting a Centre Review which can be adapted according to your needs.

  1. Appeal to Awarding Organisation

The student’s Centre must submit an appeal to the Awarding Organisation on their behalf, if the student requests it. The appeal must be in accordance with any specific requirements of the particular Awarding Organisation.

An appeal can be made if the student believes:

  • The Centre did not follow procedure properly;
  • The Awarding Organisation has made an administrative error; or
  • The grade awarded was an ‘unreasonable exercise of academic judgement.’
  1. Ofqual Exam Procedures Review Service (EPRS)

If a student or Centre, believes that there has been a procedural error by the Awarding Organisation in conducting the appeal, an application can be made to the EPRS. The EPRS will only consider procedural errors and will not conduct a substantive review of the evidence.

Grounds of Appeal

Extracted from the JCQ’s Guidance on Summer Exams 2021

  • At stage 1 (Centre Review): The centre made an administrative error, e.g. an incorrect grade was submitted; an incorrect assessment marks used when determining the grade.


  • At stages 1 and 2 (Centre Review and Appeal to Awarding Organisation): The centre did not apply a procedure correctly, such as the centre did not follow its Centre Policy, did not undertake internal quality assurance, did not take account of access arrangements or mitigating circumstances such as illness.


  • At stage 2 (Appeal to Awarding Organisation): The awarding organisation made an administrative error, e.g. the grade was incorrectly changed by the awarding organisation during the processing of grades.


  • At stage 2 (Appeal to Awarding Organisation): The student considers that the centre made an unreasonable exercise of academic judgement in the choice of evidence from which to determine the grade and/or the determination of the grade from that evidence.

What is ‘unreasonable exercise of academic judgement’?

The JCQ Guidance states:

‘A reasonable judgement is one that is supported by evidence. An exercise of judgement will not be unreasonable simply because a student considers that an alternative grade should have been awarded, even if the student puts forward supporting evidence. There may be a difference of opinion without there being an unreasonable exercise of judgement. The reviewer will not remark individual assessments to make fine judgements but will take a holistic approach based on the overall evidence.’

Important Matters

  • Deadlines:
    • Centres must submit an appeal on a student’s behalf to the exam board for priority appeals by 23rd August and non-priority appeals by by 17th September
    • A priority appeal is if a student has not yet had their first choice university place confirmed.
    • Centres will have their own deadlines, earlier than these dates so they can conduct their own review before sending the appeal. It is important that those wishing to appeal check the specific deadlines for their Centre.
  • Timeframes:
    • Ofqual’s Student Guide to Summer Exams 2021, states that Awarding Organisations will support schools, colleges and training providers to prioritise appeals where results are needed to progress into higher education.
    • Priority appeals should be completed by early September.
    • Where an appeal is not related to a higher education place, the process should be completed by the end of October.
    • UCAS has said that any outstanding offer conditions must be met by 8th September 2021 otherwise students may not be accepted but can still apply through clearing.
  • If a student decides to appeal, they should inform their preferred university/college of the situation ASAP. The Social Mobility Foundation has created a template letter which can be adapted for students wishing to write to their preferred university informing them that they are appealing and to ask whether there is any flexibility to the offer
  • Grades can go up, down or stay the same. Students should be made aware of this and the student must provide written consent.
  • If there are concerns about malpractice or maladministration, the Awarding Organisation can be contacted directly. The JCQ Guidance provides examples of what may constitute malpractice.
  • The government has said that there is no fee to appeal.

Documents to Request

If considering an appeal the following documents will be important:

  • The Centre Policy
    • Each Centre was required to create a policy which provides a summary of their approach to assessment and quality assurance
  • The sources of evidence used to determine grades and the marks/grades given for those pieces of work
  • Details of any special circumstances that have been taken into account when the grade was determined e.g. mitigating circumstances
  • Request consent form that the Centre will need student to complete
  • The Social Mobility Foundation has prepared a template letter that can be used and adapted to request this information.

Further Information/Support

Below is a non-exhaustive list of further support and information for young people who are affected by this year’s results process:


For a second consecutive year, young people have suffered significant disruption to their education as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic. Young people hoping to progress onto college and university have been unable to undertake their examinations, with grades this year being determined by teachers – Teacher Assessed Grades (TAGs). Whilst this is a departure from Centre Assessed Grades (CAGs), the process used in Summer 2020 which resulted in the exam results 2020 fiasco, concerns remain, particularly for those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds.

Last year, concerns were raised about teacher bias in relation to predicted grades, the same considerations which may also apply to TAGs. The Equality Act Review compiled a report which analysed 2091 responses and found that:

  • 2% of respondents said that they had received results that were an under-estimate of their abilities
  • 80% of respondents were from ‘BAME’ backgrounds
  • Over half of the respondents were from households below the national average household income of £28,500.

More recently, The Sutton Trust prepared a research brief which explores how the pandemic has particularly affected those from lower socio-economic backgrounds. It examines the impacts across three broad areas; the impacts on learning, the impacts on exams and assessment and the impact on the university application and entry process. Whilst young people from all backgrounds are affected the report states that there are ‘additional threats to equity and fairness as the poorest have been hardest hit.’

The report made a number of key findings, raising significant issues as to the widening educational inequalities between young people in private schools and those in state schools, for example:

  • 23% of teachers at private schools report that parents had approached or pressured them about their child’s grade this year, compared to 17% at more affluent state schools, and 11% at the least affluent.
  • 52% of teachers working in the most deprived schools of the country thought the support they received to determine grades was insufficient compared to 44% of those working in schools in the most affluent areas.
  • University applications this year are at record levels, including from under-represented groups. The number of offers made by selective universities have also risen from last year, but the offer rate (the ratio of applications to offers) has dropped by 5 percentage points, meaning entry is more competitive.

These findings are made in the context of recent analysis of the government’s handling of education during the pandemic which states that ‘the biggest single failure has to be the refusal to make contingency plans over the summer and autumn of 2020, the biggest impact of which was the failure to have anything in place to handle the second cancellation of exams in 2021.’

It remains to be seen whether the government’s handling of education during the pandemic will form part of the Terms of Reference for the COVID Public Inquiry which is due to be held in Spring 2022.

Zeenat Islam is a public law barrister at One Pump Court Chambers with specialist experience in Public Inquiries and issues affecting young people from underrepresented backgrounds. More about Zeenat can be found here.

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