The government has announced that schools will be able to appeal against downgraded A-level results for free, as ministers struggled to mitigate anger at a moderation process that downgraded 40 per cent of grades from teacher predictions.
The Department for Education said that state schools and colleges in England would be able to claim back the costs of challenging calculated results of A Levels, AS Levels and GCSEs, regardless of whether the claims were successful.
With exams cancelled this year, A-level students on Thursday received calculated grades based on teacher predictions that were algorithmically moderated based on factors such as the past performance of their school.
The system prompted outrage after it was seen to downgrade able students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Exams regulator Ofqual released details on how pupils could appeal against results based on mock exams, confirming that students could receive mock results, or non-exam assessment grades, if they were higher than their calculated grades. However, if a pupil’s teacher assessed grade is lower than the mock grade, the pupil will receive the teacher assessment grade.
The government had said a robust appeals process could address such injustices, but critics warned the cost of challenging results, at upwards of £100 per result, would create a barrier particularly for more disadvantaged schools.
Mr Williamson acknowledged on Saturday that there had been “some difficult cases” among the results.
“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,” he said.
Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the Association of School and College leaders, has said pupil results had been pulled down in a way that was “unfair and unfathomable” and called for an urgent review of the system of moderation.
“While this decision about appeals fees doesn’t address flaws in the moderation system, it’s a significant and welcome move,” he said.
The effectiveness of the appeals process is under scrutiny after ministers changed it at the last minute, announcing on Tuesday that pupils would be able to appeal against calculated grades with evidence from mock exams. Ofqual, England’s exams regulator, has not yet released full details of how the appeals process will work.
Schools will also be able to appeal if they believe historic data does not reflect the current ability of their students. As well as funding appeals the government has said it will fund resitting exams in the autumn.
After moderation, independent schools saw their top grades increase by 4.7 per cent compared to 0.3 per cent for sixth form colleges. A larger proportion of students from the most disadvantaged third had their grades lowered from A-C than their wealthier peers.
Sir Robert Syms, a Tory MP, said on Friday the system had created a “number of unfairnesses” and unless these could be “swept up by a proper appeals procedure” England would “have to go down the Scotland route” and allow pupils to have their results upgraded to teachers’ estimates.