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Wednesday, 16 October, 2002, 12:42 GMT 13:42 UK
Q&A: A-levels - where are we now?
The first part of the Tomlinson inquiry into A-level grading is over.

In the end, just under 2,000 students had their overall A-level or AS-level grades improved.

So is that the end of it? Not according to many e-mails sent to BBC News Online.

I missed my offered uni place - I've now been re-graded so I would have met it

The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (Ucas) says if you have gone somewhere else, stay put - and think carefully about whether you want to move, now that you've started the course, presumably got somewhere to live and made friends.

If you do want to go to one of your original offers of a university or college place, contact the institution direct.

Many if not all have said they will be "looking sympathetically" at giving you a place for next year.

But for a whole load of obvious practical reasons, don't get your hopes up that they'll be able to fit you in this year.

Ucas has a telephone helpline: +44 (0)1242 227788 which is normally open 0900-1700 BST Monday - Friday.

My AS-levels were affected - I want to go to medical school and had to get my Ucas application in early

In fact by Tuesday 15 October, coincidentally - the same day the re-grading results were announced.

Ucas said it would send the re-grading data automatically electronically to the universities - who in any case are well aware of what's going on.

So they will know that your application has been strengthened - and remember, nobody's grades have gone down.

The unis had been asked to delay making decisions until they knew the outcome of the A-level review process.

As for the more general higher education applications deadline, which is 15 January - everyone rather hopes this will all be sorted out finally by then.

I'm out of pocket because I had to switch to a university

Send the bill to the Education Secretary, Estelle Morris.

She told MPs you would be reimbursed by a special fund being set up by her department.

I'm still not happy with my grades, can I appeal?

Only if the units involved were part of the re-grading by the OCR exam board, which has extended the deadline in those cases to Monday 28th October 2002.

The deadlines for other results enquiries to the exam boards have passed.

I don't think my grades were right but they were not reviewed - why not?

The process began with a list drawn up by Mike Tomlinson, the former chief inspector of England's schools, who was asked to investigate complaints about this summer's A-levels.

A bit of tweaking of the boundaries between grades is done every year to maintain the standard of A-levels - that's part of the job of an exam board chief executive.

What Tomlinson said in his first report was that chief executives had felt under pressure to downgrade some results, so they altered the recommendations made by their chief examiners - often without even telling them.

The units Tomlinson fingered were where the boundaries were moved this summer more than had been done in the past - the effect being to make the exam harder.

So first, he wanted to know whether chief examiners had agreed with grades being changed.

If they had - and he wanted "contemporaneous evidence" that they had - then fine, the results stood.

Only if they didn't were the grades reviewed.

At that stage he had two AQA units, five Edexcel units and 97 OCR units in his sights.

AQA said its chairs of examiners had not objected - but it couldn't prove that, so both those units got reviewed.

Edexcel said its chairs of examiners in three subjects had been happy, so only two of its units got reviewed.

OCR said its top examiners were happy with 34 of its units, so only 63 got reviewed - plus it voluntarily added 11 units in two subjects, English literature and psychology, about which there had been a lot of complaints.

The review involved a panel for each subject.

How could we trust them?

The panels included a chief examiner for the subject from another board and someone from the QCA exams watchdog, but also - in case you're thinking "they're all in it together" - an independent, experienced observer nominated by the teacher organisations.

The observer was to report in confidence to Mike Tomlinson - who also dropped in on some of the meetings himself.

What did they do?

Went back to square one, basically.

They went through the grade-setting process all over again, looking at students' scripts and past data to decide what the standard should be.

If they came up with grade boundaries that were lower than were eventually set this summer, the results were changed.

If they came up with the same boundaries, or indeed higher ones, nothing altered - it was stressed again that nobody was going to be downgraded as a result of this.

I was predicted an A and got a U - could moving the grade boundary have accounted for that?

Just what we asked Mike Tomlinson.

No, he said. It might just drop you from a C to a U.

So the marking was suspect then...

I'm afraid he was not asked to consider marking, a point he has made more than once.

If it's a coursework issue - and most of the complaints of this sort seem to be - it could well be that your teachers just did not appreciate the required standard.

They could be forgiven for that - one of the outcomes of all this is that no-one is sure what the required standard was supposed to be.

Then again, plenty of schools and colleges did seem to get it right, and there are teachers who say they had no problem.

I'm doing my A-levels next year and I no longer trust this lot

You are not alone.

But rest assured, wise and good people are putting systems in place to make sure this doesn't happen again.

Happier now?

The alleged A-level grades manipulation

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