Northern Ireland student loses battle in High Court over A-level grades

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

Written as a member of the ‘Class of 2020’, she took legal action after the assessment process used amid the Covid disruption resulted in her earning just one of four A* (star) grades that she hoped to get.

But a judge dismissed challenges against his ex-school and review body CCEA, which included allegations of procedural unfairness and human rights violations.

Judge Humphreys ruled: “This court has never been able to overturn the professional judgment of the teachers at his old school.”

The student at the center of the case has been granted anonymity for medical reasons.

She was due to take exams in four A-level subjects in 2020, but instead earned grades through a process in which teachers submitted students’ predicted grades for standardization by the CCEA.

The system earned him an A* and three A’s in August 2020.

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

A few days later, former Education Minister Peter Weir dropped the policy and announced that students could receive higher grades if teachers provided for it.

During an internal appeal procedure, the pupil’s parents argued that she should have received A* assessments, criticized the model used and alleged a discriminatory failure to take GCSE grades into account.

Failure to properly consider the impact of his medical condition on his ability to study and a teacher’s “unconscious bias” have also been claimed.

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

:: The school’s failure to appeal its grades to the CCEA,

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

:: The CAMC’s decision not to uphold a professional misconduct complaint.

Ruling on the case, Judge Humphreys praised the resilience she and others whose A-level studies were interrupted once the pandemic began in March 2020, leaving them “an educational experience like no other of living memory”.

He continued: “The plaintiff in this case is a member of the class of 2020.

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

Ultimately, however, he concluded that the grounds for legal challenge were indisputable.

No irrationality, illegality or procedural unfairness existed in the circumstances of the case, the judge confirmed.

Judge Humphreys concluded: ‘It is remarkable that the candidate overcame the challenges she faced and secured a place on a demanding course at a leading university.

“It is evident that she is a young woman of considerable ability and character, and I am sure she will be successful in whatever career she chooses to pursue.”