Ministers have denied that the exam system in England has been thrown into “confusion” following 11th-hour changes to the way A-level and GCSE results will be assessed.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson announced late on Tuesday that students will be able to use their results in mock tests to appeal if they are unhappy with the grades they are given.
The move – less than 48 hours before students receive their calculated A-level results following the cancellation of actual exams amid the Covid-19 crisis – comes in the wake of a dramatic U-turn by the Scottish Government.
Scotland’s Education Secretary, John Swinney, announced that moderated grades would be scrapped following a massive outcry after more than 124,000 results were downgraded.
Nick Gibb, the schools minister for England, acknowledged that the Government was “concerned” about what had happened in Scotland but insisted the system in England remains “robust”.
He said that only a “small number” of students would be affected by the change and insisted that ministers have nothing to apologise for by acting so late in the day.
“There is no confusion. We have been very clear from the very beginning. We had to have a system in place to award qualifications to young people given that we had cancelled the exams,” he told BBC Breakfast.
“We apologise to nobody for finding solutions, even at the 11th hour, to stop any student being disadvantaged by this system.”
The move was condemned as “panicked and chaotic” by a union leader representing school heads, who warned that it would lead to “massive inconsistency” in the way grades were awarded.
Following the cancellation of this year’s summer exams, teachers were told to submit the grades they thought each student would have received if they had sat the papers.
Exam boards have moderated these grades to ensure that this year’s results – for students in England, Northern Ireland and Wales – are not significantly higher than in previous years.
However, students in England will now be able to use their mock exam results as the basis for an appeal if they are higher than the calculated grade.
Regulator Ofqual will be asked to determine how and when valid mock results can be used, with schools being required to submit the evidence to the exam board.
Students will also still be able to sit exams in the autumn if they are unhappy with the grades they secured in mocks, or if they are dissatisfied with results awarded by exam boards on Thursday.
All three grades will hold the same value with universities, colleges and employers, the Department for Education (DfE) said.
Mr Gibb said it was designed as a “safety net” and would not lead to “grade inflation”.
“It is just making sure at the edges that no student is disadvantaged. This is just to give a safety net for any student who might fall through the system,” he told Sky News.
“It will only affect a small group of people. Most young people tomorrow will get the grade that the teacher sent in to the exam board that they thought they would get.”
However, Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said the plan creates potential for “massive inconsistency” as mock exams are not standardised and some students may not have taken them before schools closed in March.
He said: “The idea of introducing at the 11th hour a system in which mock exam results trump calculated grades beggars belief.
“Schools and colleges have spent months diligently following detailed guidance to produce centre-assessed grades, only to find they might as well not have bothered.
“If the Government wanted to change the system it should have spent at least a few days discussing the options rather than rushing out a panicked and chaotic response.”
For Labour, shadow education secretary Kate Green said it would be “very, very worrying for A-level students to find the system was changing again just a day before they received their results.
“Not all students will have even taken mock exams and what we’ve now got is a system which clearly is not fit for purpose,” she told BBC Breakfast.
“The Government itself is clearly acknowledging that by announcing more and more changes to it.”