LONDON • The United Kingdom suspended new criteria for appealing against exam results in England used to gain entry to universities just hours after their publication, further stoking public outrage over the government’s handling of the process during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation early yesterday said the new appeals criteria published on Saturday afternoon were now “being reviewed”.
The appeals process was due to begin today, and the new guidelines allowed more leeway for raising grades after hundreds of thousands of students received lower marks than projected by their schools.
The lockdown in March meant Britain’s 16-and 18-year-olds were unable to sit their usual examinations, which are used for job and university applications.
Instead, the government said grades would be based on an algorithm combining teachers’ predictions, the students’ past test scores and – controversially – the results achieved by previous students at their schools.
That prompted a backlash from students after more than a third of students had predicted grades downgraded, with young people from economically disadvantaged places harder hit by the changes.
Students protested outside the government’s headquarters in London last Friday, calling for Education Secretary Gavin Williamson to resign, and parents are weighing lawsuits, the Sunday Times reported.
The release of the exam results last Thursday was covered live, with television networks like the BBC holding interviews with distraught students learning they would be denied places at their chosen universities.
That process may be played out again on Thursday, when the results of the GCSEs, exams taken by 16-year-olds, are made public.
Mr Keir Starmer, leader of the opposition Labour Party, said on Twitter yesterday: “We need to end this fiasco.”
Last Friday, the day after the exam results were released, Mr Williamson announced the government will make the appeals process free of charge so teachers would not be deterred from making appeals. The fees are usually paid by schools.
Even a successful appeal could force students to defer starting university, as many universities will not be able to keep places available even if the process can be wrapped up before the start of the September term.
The government has said students would be able to choose the highest of their calculated grades, the result of an exam taken later in the year, or the outcome of a “mock” exam from the start of the year.
The process announced last Saturday lays out what will determine a valid mock assessment for an appeal of the test results in England.
The new criteria raised the possibility of the grades being based on “non-exam assessments”.
“We want to make sure this opportunity is available to a wide range of students, including those who had not taken a written mock exam before schools and colleges closed,” the government office said in the Saturday statement. We will therefore allow a non-exam assessment mark to be used too.”
There had already been a backlash against how this policy was applied in Scotland, which has a separate examination system.
The Scottish government later ordered a reversal of the downgrading and instead awarded affected students the results estimated by their teachers.