Schools in England will be able to appeal against A-level and GCSE grades free of charge, the Government has confirmed.
State-funded schools and colleges will also be able to claim back the cost of unsuccessful appeals as well as fees for autumn exams, said the Department for Education (DfE).
It comes amid widespread criticism of the Government’s handling of the exams system, after thousands of pupils in England had their results downgraded by a statistical model.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said “alongside the success of so many young people, there have been some difficult cases”.
He said: “I have said repeatedly that my absolute priority is fairness for students, and I do not want anything holding them back from achieving the grades they deserve.
“So all result appeals for state-funded schools and colleges will be free, helping to make sure every single student has the best possible chance of securing the grades they need in order to take their next step.”
Appeals against grades vary between exam boards, with charges of up to £150 for an independent review, and costs are refunded if the appeal is upheld.
There were 3,205 appeals against grades granted for GCSEs, AS and A-levels for exams sat in summer 2019, equivalent to 0.05% of all entries, and 16% – of 516 grades – were changed, according to figures from exam regulator Ofqual.
Protesters gathered outside Downing Street on Friday chanting for Mr Williamson to be sacked, a call echoed by some opposition MPs.
But Prime Minister Boris Johnson insisted he has confidence in Mr Williamson and described the system as “robust”.
One A-level student who missed out on a top veterinary school after being handed three D grades attacked schools minister Nick Gibb for “ruining my life”.
Nina Bunting Mitcham, from Peterborough, said she was predicted to achieve ABB and scored As and Bs in her mock exams, but her DDD results meant she failed to meet her offer from the Royal Veterinary College.
Mr Gibb promised a “robust” and “swift” appeal system which should see challenged grades addressed by September 7 at the latest, telling her: “It won’t ruin your life, it will be sorted I can assure you.”
Mr Gibb added pupils can also sit exams in the autumn and “many universities are holding places open to start in January”.
The DfE said it has introduced a “triple lock system” meaning those pupils “unhappy with their calculated grades can appeal on the basis of a valid mock result” or sit an exam in the autumn.
It added: “Schools and colleges will also be able to appeal if they believe their historic data does not reflect the ability of their current students – that may be because they have experienced a recent change in leadership or because they have one or a number of exceptional students.”
Meanwhile, the Royal Statistical Society has written to the Office of Statistics Regulation to ask for a review into whether “the models and processes adopted by the qualification regulators did in fact achieve quality and trustworthiness”.
It comes after Conservative MPs voiced concerns about the process used by Ofqual to moderate A-level results, with Sir Robert Syms suggesting the Westminster Government may have to follow Scotland’s lead if the appeals procedure failed to deal with the issues.
The SNP-led administration at Holyrood opted to allow results estimated by teachers to be accepted.
Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham also said he is considering a legal challenge against Ofqual over the “unfair” A-level results process, given the impact on pupils in his region.
But Mr Williamson has said there would be “no U-turn” on the grading system, claiming this would “severely erode” the value of qualifications and lead to grade inflation.
We have seen concerns that appeals to A level results could lead to grades going down.
We can reassure students that, as there is grade protection this year, no grades will go down as a result of an appeal.
— Ofqual (@ofqual) August 13, 2020
Robert Halfon, the Conservative chairman of the Commons Education Committee, has also expressed concern that Ofqual’s model penalised disadvantaged students.
He called on the regulator to publish details of the algorithm it used to make its calculations.
“I am worried about it because some figures suggest that disadvantaged students have been penalised again,” he told BBC Radio 4’s The World At One.
He added: “If the model has penalised disadvantaged groups, this is very serious, and if it has disadvantaged colleges, that has to be looked at. Ofqual will have to adjust the grades.”
Ofqual has said that a “rare few centres” put in “implausibly high judgments”, and said that an appeals process is in place to correct any mistakes.
The Dfe added a taskforce chaired by Mr Gibb and including Ofqual and exam boards will meet daily to ensure the swift processing of appeals.