Schools in England will be able to appeal against A-level and GCSE grades free of charge, in a climbdown by the education secretary, Gavin Williamson. He said it would be a “shocking injustice” if cost stopped appeals being made on behalf of pupils with a “strong and legitimate” case.
The announcement comes as pressure mounts on the education secretary to resign after thousands of students were given lower grades than expected on Thursday and rejected from their first-choice universities.
About 39% of A-level results were downgraded by the exam regulator Ofqual’s algorithm, with disadvantaged pupils worst affected.
The shadow education secretary, Kate Green, said the Labour leader, Keir Starmer, had called for appeals to be made free more than 24 hours previously.
Green said: “But once again, this government have been far too slow to act and have failed young people.”
She urged Williams to follow the example of the Scottish government, by replacing the results with teacher assessments “to ensure they can get the results they deserve”.
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.
Nick Gibb, the schools minister for England, is understood to be setting up a taskforce to ensure that appeals over A-level grades will be heard by 7 September, before the start of the university year. The taskforce will include members of Ofqual and the examination boards, as well as the DfE.
Nina, an A-level student from Peterborough who missed out on a top veterinary school, attacked the schools minister for “ruining my life” during BBC Radio 4’s Any Questions? She told Gibb she was distraught after being predicted to achieve ABB, and scoring As and Bs in her mock exams, but was handed three D grades.
Nina, who went to New College Stamford, said: “I have no idea how this has happened. It’s got to be a mistake, I have never been a D-grade student. I feel my life has been completely ruined, I can’t get into any universities with such grades or progress further in my life. You have ruined my life.”
Gibb promised a “robust” and “swift” appeal system, telling Nina, whose last name was not given: “It won’t ruin your life. It will be sorted, I can assure you.”
He added: “The universities have said they will hold offers open until 7 September and we’re working through that now to make sure those appeals happen very quickly.”
Oxford and Cambridge became the first universities to reject the government’s call to hold open places for A-level student appealing their grades, the Times reported.
Students holding offers to attend most Oxbridge colleges will have to instead defer a year if their college has filled up. However Worcester College has said it will honour all offers “irrespective of their A-level results”.
“It’s the morally right thing to do,” the college’s admissions tutor told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
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 Ofqual.
Protesters gathered outside Downing Street on Friday chanting for Williamson to be sacked, a call echoed by some opposition MPs. But Boris Johnson insisted he has confidence in Williamson and described the system as “robust”.