Only a “small group of pupils” are likely to benefit from a last-minute concession allowing appeals against A-level grades in England on the basis of mock exam results, the schools minister, Nick Gibb, has said.
The education secretary, Gavin Williamson, announced changes to the appeals system late on Tuesday night, after the Scottish government was forced to restore the exam grades of more than 120,000 students marked down by a computer algorithm.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4 Today, Gibb confirmed that students in England would be allowed to contest individual results – via their school – and that past performance in mock exams would be one basis for such an appeal.
But he said: “It will only apply to a small group of people; it is just another source of evidence on which they can base an appeal.”
In a press release sent out at 11.30m on Tuesday as the government scrambled to avoid a Scotland-style backlash, the Department for Education (DfE) said students unhappy with their grades would be able to “appeal to receive a valid mock result”.
Ministers have asked the Ofqual, England’s exams regulator, to “determine how and when valid mock results can be used to calculate grades”.
Ofqual had previously not allowed individual appeals. The DfE has also announced £30m for schools to pay entry fees for the extra set of A-level and GCSE exams being held in autumn.
Ministers bid to quell revolt over England A-levels by allowing mock exam results
A-level results in England are due to be announced on Thursday, calculated on a similar basis to Scotland’s. Teachers’ predictions have been moderated by a model that takes into account factors including past school performance.
“Most people can rely on this standardisation model in delivering the right result,” said Gibb, stressing that without the computer-aided moderation, there would have been grade inflation of 12%.
He underscored the government’s continued confidence in the system, despite the fiasco in Scotland, which has led to calls for the Scottish education secretary, John Swinney, to resign.
“It is a robust, it is a fair system. Tomorrow, students can be confident that the grades they receive tomorrow are a fair reflection of their ability and their work, and that those qualifications will have value,” Gibb said.
He also confirmed that, as the Guardian reported last week, 40% of grades have been downgraded by the standardisation model.
“The majority of students tomorrow will get the grades submitted by their teacher, and of those 40% that are adjusted, it will be just by one grade,” he said.
Tuesday evening’s last-minute changes sparked alarm among those expected to navigate the system.
Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “The idea of introducing at the 11th hour a system in which mock exam results trump calculated grades beggars belief. 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.”
The shadow education secretary, Kate Green, urged the government to put in place “a robust appeals system”. And she criticised the latest change to the system, telling Sky News: “I don’t think the mock exams are a reliable way of pointing on their own to a student’s attainment.”
Sir Jon Coles, the chief executive of the academy schools chain United Learning, warned that using mock exams as a measure could be problematic because different schools set them differently.
He said some schools use them “as a way of giving kids a kick up the backside”, while others treat them as “confidence-building”.
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