Opinion

Subject access requests: 2020’s summer trend?

Subject access requests: 2020’s summer trend?

Awarding students calculated grades in GCSEs, AS and A levels this summer may have been the simplest option, but Ofqual’s decision does create the potential for an influx of complaints regarding bias.

As such, schools need to be aware of how to deal with these fairly and effectively.

How will GCSEs, AS and A levels be awarded without exams?

COVID-19 has put the education sector in a position it’s never been in before. The exceptional circumstances caused by the cancellation of examinations led to a thorough consultation by Ofqual to assess how best to award grades to the students of 2020. Calculated grades were judged to be the fairest solution, ensuring students still have the chance to move onto higher education or employment.

Ofqual’s guidance states that schools should make an “objective judgement” based on “different sources of evidence and data”, such as:

  • homework;
  • mock exams; and
  • non-exam assessments.

The aim is to award each student with the grade they “would most likely have received". However, although as fair as possible, the process is partly subjective meaning there is a risk of bias or discrimination.

What if there is a disagreement over a grade?

Individual pupils will be unable to challenge their teacher-assessed grades, as an appeal would have to be undertaken by “someone better placed than the student’s teachers to judge their likely grade if exams had taken place”. However, if it is believed that the wrong grade has been awarded due to bias or discrimination, then a complaint can be made.

Subject access requests can also be submitted under data protection legislation to see what information relating to the student was shared to determine the resulting grade. Read more about data protection and subject access requests.

What is a subject access request?

Simply, a subject access request is a written request made by or on behalf of an individual for a copy of their personal data which is held by “a data controller” (i.e. an organisation, such a s a school or person who processes a person’s data for their own purposes).  The right of access is conferred by the General Data Protection Regulation Article 15.

After receiving a request, schools have one month to disclose the requested personal data, unless the request is complex and in those circumstances, the time limit can be extended by a further two months. A different time limit applies to examination marks.  If the request is made before the examination results are released, the time limit for disclosure is the earlier of five months from the date of the request or 40 days from the date the results are released.

GCSE, AS and A level students will usually be regarded as having the capacity to consent to the uses of their personal data, so it is essential that schools gain consent from the student before sharing any personal data with their parents.

How should schools handle any complaints over calculated grades?

Once results are released in summer, it’s likely that schools will see many more complaints and subject access requests than usual, particularly for any personal data in recorded deliberations concerning a student’s performance. Therefore, it is important to document the decision-making process, including any discussions held and how Ofqual’s guidance has been followed. This will help to avoid allegations of unconscious bias, highlighting that grades were based on academic facts alone.

Before the summer results are announced, schools should ensure they understand the regulator's guidelines and seek expert advice where needed, allowing them to make objective judgements and handle any disputes effectively.

Contact us

If you would like further information or advice in relational to handling subject access requests, or how best to deal with student complaints, then speak to Esther Maxwell or Geraldine Swanton in our specialist education team.

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