Poor teenagers are losing out on college and university courses because they cannot afford to have their A-level and GCSE exams remarked, teachers revealed today.
The rocketing cost of remarking scripts coupled with the squeeze on school budgets has led to some schools charging parents for the cost of requesting exam boards to review marks, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers' annual conference in Liverpool heard yesterday.
Figures show the number of remarking requests is increasing, According to exams regulator Ofqual, there were 450,000 requests for a remark last summer - up from 304, 250 the previous year. The number of grades changed rose from 39, 650 to 45,500.
At the same time the cost of demanding a remark now ranges from £7.50 for a simple clerical check to £48.60 for a full remark. One school, which requested 500 remarks at A-level had to pay £20,000 out of its own budget because they only get refunds in cases where an error has been spotted.
Teachers believe the requests will rise again with the reform of A-levels and GCSE's placing more weight on the end of term exam.
Colin Cranmer, from Norfolk, told the conference: "My concern is that it is the parents of pupils who often find they have to pay the remark fees.
"What if your family is surviving on universal credit or living costs are outstripping the family income. What if you're a looked after child.
"Is it a case of 'tough luck, you happen to be poor?"
He said it could lead to a situation where a looked after child was sitting next to a child from a more affluent background in class - and could not get his grade reviewed classmate was able to. "They may not be disadvantaged in terms of brain power but if they are two or three marks below a C grade and they haven't got the money to get it reviewed, they could be in terms of outcome," he added.
Mary Bousted, general secretary of ATL, added: "It will discriminate against disadvantaged students.
"There are several issues here. Firstly, we know the quality of exam marking is a real issue which is reflected by the rise in appeals.
"This is putting on schools severe costs running into tens of thousands of pounds at a time when school budgets are being squeezed and they are having to look to save money."
Dr Bousted added: "It is regrettable that schools sometimes feel they have to ask students' parents to find the cost of the remark.
"For children whose parents don't have the money what you could well see is they are denied access to the fair rewards that their achievements would entitle them to.
"They are being denied justice ... If you can't get the marks you need, it could mean you don't get into college and it could even affect your university place."
Jacqueline Watton, from Humberside, told of a school which had spent £14,000 on remarking. "That would have paid half the salary of an extra teacher out of the school budget," she added.
She said that - with the A-level reforms coming into force placing an increased reliance of end-of-year exams "it is likely schools will ask for even more to be remarked".
Simon Clarkson, from Leicestershire, saying that - at present - much of the practical work done for exams was of "Mickey Mouse" quality. It was aimed at ticking the boxes necessary to pass exams and changes proposed by exams regulator Ofqual would mean it was "of far more value than the assessments they did in the past".
Under the new proposals, marks for practical work will no longer count towards a student's grade - but they will be given a pass or fail on how they carried out assignments.
Exams in numbers
450,000 - requests for exams to be re-marked last summer, up from 304,250 the previous summer
45,500 - grades rose after a re-mark last summer
£48.60 - cost of a full re-mark