By George Turnbull
Qualifications and Curriculum Authority 'exams doctor'
Group hugs and kisses may soon be a thing of the past on results day.
There might soon be no need to go into school for results
The estimated one million students taking 26 million A-level and GCSE exams each summer may no longer need to go to school to get their results in August.
From any internet access point in the world, thousands of students this year will be able to download their results from one exam board at least. Other boards are likely to follow.
Next best thing to those missing hugs and kisses though is the integrated "gradiometer" which comes as part of the package and shows at a glance how near students are to the next grade boundary - and will give guidance on whether to challenge the grades awarded.
But the potential of this electronically-generated information is enormous, with sophisticated details about performance and comparisons with national averages to whet the appetite.
Detailed information about the school's performance against others and national averages are available too, but not for general release at the moment.
Therein lies a debate which is yet to come: what is to be done with all of the information that is now available?
Which is all a bit academic for this year's cohort as all they will be interested in is their own results and where to get that hug from someone other than the immediate family, especially if they only have that gradeometer for company.
But for those who get the grades they need, celebration will be uppermost in their minds - and for others falling short of the minimum needed for that coveted college or university place then the hard work begins. So read on if you find yourself in that position.
Firstly, of course, it may be that your preferred university or college will accept you with the grades you have, although marginally lower than predicted. So phone them.
Or they may offer you that slightly different course option which makes you happy. But think carefully before you accept: don't just grab at anything.
Consider other institutions too if the preferred one simply will not accept you, but not before you have done your homework on the courses offered and what the establishment has to offer you in terms of student life and other facilities.
But could the examining board have made a mistake and got your grades wrong? And what can you do about it, should that be the case?
Well, speed is of the essence. Boards do sometimes make mistakes, and as one mark could make the difference between two grades, if you are at the top of a grade band it might be worth checking with your school if you have fallen short.
Only they can finally raise an enquiry about your results with the exam board, on your behalf, so you do need to consult them at some point.
You need to agree to such action too, as your grades can go down as well as up, or simply remain as they are.
So generally speaking, if you are already at the bottom of a grade band, the loss of a mark will put you down a grade, and a lot of marks would need to be gained in order to get you onto a higher grade level.
A fee is charged for these services but if your grades are changed, either way, then that fee will be returned.
Extreme measures are taken to ensure that the grades awarded are accurate and truly reflect each student's abilities, on the basis of the exam scripts and other work submitted.
The independent Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) regulates the whole process. It is a truly professional operation with the interests of students, and fair play, at its heart. No stone is ever left unturned - and that's a fact.
Your school can request copies of exam scripts or the actual scripts. It can ask for a clerical check from around £10 and a re-mark from about £35 for an A-level.
The check will ensure that marks were recorded and transferred correctly and that totals were correct - whereas re-marks entail the re-marking of your script by a senior examiner.
Priority re-marks can be requested too from around £40 for those A-level students with university or college places at stake.
Fees generally will vary across the boards, but the closing date for priority A-level re-marking is commonly set by all boards at 24 August, and all other requests are to be received by 20 September.
But if you are still unhappy because your grades are unchanged or lowered, your school can take the matter further by lodging an appeal with the examining board.
An internal investigation would then be held in one or two stages, the latter involving an independent scrutineer.
If the matter is still unresolved, then the case could be taken by your school to an external and independent appeal through the Examinations Appeals Board (EAB).
The process is long and can be complex. But more importantly it will not be completed in time to affect your grades for entry to university or college this year.
Only a handful of cases ever get this far.
Your school will be able to offer valuable advice as will the free phone line run by the Department for Children, Schools and Families: 0808 100 8000, where experienced experts will be on hand to give advice on the day the results are published and thereafter.
And if your questions relate to the exams themselves then you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for a personal and detailed response.
George Turnbull spent almost 30 years as a senior official with the UK's largest examining board. He is currently the QCA's Exams Doctor.