Hundreds of thousands of students will not get their exam results on Thursday because of the fallout from the government’s U-turn over A-levels and GCSEs, under a last-minute announcement.

Pupils sitting the BTec qualification were told hours before results day that they would have to wait for their grades while their exam board recalculated them to match the government’s change in policy.

Colleges warned that students would be worried about losing out on places in further and higher education, and the exam board admitted that the delay could “cause additional stress and uncertainty” for students.

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Exam board Pearson, which oversees the qualification, said it was having to recalculate grades for level 1 and level 2 in order to be fair to BTec students, who compete against GCSE students for places in further education.

Students at BTec level 3, who have already been given their grades, have also been told that their results may change – though they can only go up and not down.

The decision will mostly affect students taking a more vocational route into work or university; the qualification involves more hands-on practical work and is popular with older learners as well as young people.

“Our priorities are to deliver fair outcomes for BTec students in relation to A-levels and GCSEs and to ensure that no student is disadvantaged,” said Cindy Rampersaud, senior vice president at Pearson for BTec and apprenticeships, in a statement issued on Wednesday evening.

“So, in light of Ofqual’s announcement, we decided to review our approach for BTec students and have taken on board feedback from teachers, schools and colleges before making a number of changes.”

She added: “We have become concerned about unfairness, including consistency with the approaches now being used for GCSE and A-levels.

“This means we will now be removing Pearson-calculated grades and allowing higher outcomes for the externally examined units so they are in line with those assessed by teachers. We believe this is now a more trusted source of evidence of learner attainment.

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“We understand that this could cause additional stress and uncertainty for you at this time and we are sincerely sorry.

“We have written to schools and colleges this afternoon asking them not to issue any BTec L1 and L2 results tomorrow, while we work to recalculate the final grades. For those level 3 BTec students who have already received results this summer, please be assured that no grades will go down as part of this review.”

The shadow secretary for communities and local government, Steve Reed, said: “It was right that the government U-turned on Monday, but thousands of families are still having to deal with the consequences. The results fiasco is far from over.

“We need a cast-iron guarantee from ministers that no student will lose out on their first choice because of government incompetence. And they must ensure all students have their final grades by the end of the week.

“It beggars belief that students are still in limbo, with no clarity over their futures because of a mess the government created. Families deserve better than this.”

The delay to the issuing of results coincides with concerns about over-recruitment by colleges and universities, with regrading meaning that more students are likely to meet their offers than expected.

David Hughes, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said: “BTec students deserve equal footing with A-levels and GCSEs. The public perception was that using CAG [centre-assessed] grades for some exams and not for BTec students was unfair. We had asked Pearson to look at a small number of results which looked unfair and they were happy to do that. An overall review can address those results and check that no student has been treated unfairly.

“The timing is worrying, because thousands of students were due to get their results in the morning and others have already got results which we know will not go down, but which might improve. So it is vital for students that this is sorted in days rather than weeks so that students have the chance to celebrate and to plan their next steps. It is a stressful time and this delay will extend the uncertainties.

“Those students wanting to move on to further or higher education will be most worried about losing out on places. We are in close communication with DfE, Ofqual and Pearson to particularly make sure that BTec students applying for universities can still be treated fairly.”

A spokesperson for regulator Ofqual said: “Everyone is working as quickly as possible to confirm results as soon as possible, recognising the impact that delays are having on schools, colleges and students.”

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