The Labour leader warns the government it risks “robbing a generation of their future” if it does not make the exam system fairer.
A-level students in England will be able to use grades in mock exams to progress to university and college courses and employment, the education secretary has announced.
The change forms part of what Gavin Williamson has called a “triple lock” to give students confidence in the moderation system, which can see predicted results set by teachers downgraded based on a school’s previous record.
It comes as unions called on the government to follow Scotland’s lead in scrapping moderated grades after the downgrading of more than 124,000 results was reversed.
Setting out the decision to press ahead with a moderated results process, Mr Williamson said: “Every young person waiting for their results wants to know they have been treated fairly.
“By ensuring students have the safety net of their mock results, as well as the chance of sitting autumn exams, we are creating a triple lock process to ensure they can have the confidence to take the next step forward in work or education.”
Schools minister Nick Gibb defended the change, telling Sky News the calculated grades system is “fair” and “youngsters tomorrow getting their results can be confident in those results”.
Speaking to Kay Burley@Breakfast, he added: “It is just making sure at the edges that no student is disadvantaged.
“This is just to give a safety net for any student who might fall through the system.
“It will only affect a small group of people. Most young people tomorrow will get the grade that the teacher sent in to the exam board that they thought they would get.”
Ministers are expected to pledge a further £30m to help schools provide autumn exams to those students who wish to take them.
However, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the government must take steps to make the system fairer.
He has called for statutory guidance to require colleges and universities to show greater flexibility in admissions and wants ministers to prevent GCSE maths and English results being downgraded below the lowest pass grade.
“Pupils and parents are rightly worried that years of hard work are about to be undone because a computer has decided to mark their child down,” he said.
“The SNP have been forced into a humiliating U-turn after a shambolic few days. With 24 hours before results are released, I would urge the prime minister to change course, or he risks robbing a generation of their future.”
Shadow education secretary Kate Green told Sky News the announcement was “papering over the cracks of a system that really is in chaos”.
“It’s terribly worrying and unfair to students to be put in this position just before the results are issued,” she said.
The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) also criticised the government’s announcement on mock exam results, suggesting schools “might as well not have bothered” making predicted grades.
“The idea of introducing, at the eleventh hour, a system in which mock exam results trump calculated grades beggars belief,” said Geoff Barton, general secretary of the ASCL.
“The government doesn’t appear to understand how mock exams work.
“They aren’t a set of exams which all conform to the same standards.
“The clue is in the name ‘mock’. And some students will not have taken them by the time that schools were closed in March. So, this immediately creates the potential for massive inconsistency.”
Some unions have gone further, with both the National Union of Students (NUS) and the University and College Union (UCU) calling on the government to scrap moderated grades altogether.
Outcry over the moderation process for higher qualifications in Scotland resulted in a U-turn on Monday and an apology from the Scottish education secretary.
The SNP’s John Swinney said more than 100,000 moderated grades would be restored to the level originally set by teachers.
With exams unable to take place due to the coronavirus lockdown, 250,000 students will receive results on Thursday based on predictions set by teachers.
But those predictions will be subject to moderation by exam boards who will attempt to ensure results are not inconsistent with previous years by adjusting the grades based on a school’s previous results.
The Welsh exams regulator, Qualifications Wales, has indicated it will also stick with a moderated results process, rather than follow the example of the Scottish government.
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Robert Halfon, the Conservative chair of the Education Select Committee, told Sky News the government must ensure the appeals process is effective.
“It is right that teachers grade the exams and that there is a check and balance system from Ofqual, but what we have to ensure is that the system is fair and the model that Ofqual is using is fair and doesn’t hurt those from disadvantaged backgrounds,” he said.
“We also have to make sure we have an appeals system that is second to none.
“Students should be able to appeal if they feel their grades are unfair, providing it is signed off by the headteacher.”