GCSE and A-level students in England will be able to use grades in mock exams to progress to university and college courses and employment, the Education Secretary has announced.
Results in mock tests – which were held before schools were forced to close amid the Covid-19 crisis – will carry the same weight as the calculated results to be awarded this month, Gavin Williamson said.
The move, described by one union leader as “panicked and chaotic”, comes after unions called on the UK Government to follow Scotland’s lead in scrapping moderated grades as the downgrading of more than 124,000 results was reversed.
In a U-turn announced on Tuesday, Scotland’s Education Secretary John Swinney revealed that downgraded results would revert to the grades estimated by pupils’ teachers.
It comes after this year’s summer exams were cancelled amid Covid-19. 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 this year’s results – for students in England, Northern Ireland and Wales – are not significantly higher than previous years.
But now students in England awaiting their A-level and GCSE results can keep their grades in mock exams if they are higher than the calculated grade, with regulator Ofqual asked to determine how and when valid mock results can be used.
Students will have to go through the appeals process to use their mock exam result, with their school required to submit evidence to the exam board.
And they will still be able to sit exams in the autumn if they are unhappy with the grades they secured in mock exams, 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 Williamson also announced an additional £30 million in funding to help schools and colleges carry out the autumn exam series for students wishing to sit GCSE and A-level exams.
But the appeals process – where individual students in England are dependent on schools and colleges to appeal against results on their behalf – is expected to remain the same.
Mr Williamson said: “Every young person waiting for their results wants to know they have been treated fairly.
“By ensuring students have the safety net of their mock results, as well as the chance of sitting autumn exams, we are creating a triple lock process to ensure they can have the confidence to take the next step forward in work or education.”
Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said the plan created potential for “massive inconsistency” as mock exams were not standardised and some students may not have taken them before schools closed in March.
He said: “The idea of introducing at the eleventh hour a system in which mock exam results trump calculated grades beggars belief. The government doesn’t appear to understand how mock exams work. They aren’t a set of exams which all conform to the same standards. The clue is in the name ‘mock’.
“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.”
Labour has urged the Government to carry out urgent changes, including helping students to correct their grades with credible appeals and resits and clarifying which students are likely to be worst affected by the model being used.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said: “With 24 hours before results are released, I would urge the Prime Minister to change course, or he risks robbing a generation of their future.”
Lord Baker, who served as an education secretary under Margaret Thatcher, said it appeared Scotland had “got it right” and those that will suffer from downgrading are most likely to be the brightest students in the poorest schools.
He told The Telegraph: “Scotland makes it exceptionally difficult for the Prime Minister. It’s egg on face, there is no question about that.”
There are also fears mid-ranking A-level students could face a grading “lottery” after they were put in rank order against their classmates within each grade for each subject, according to Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at the University of Buckingham.
Picture: File photo, dated 07/03/12, of a general view of pupils sitting an exam. (David Jones/PA).