Just 36 hours before A-level results are released, the education secretary ripped up his plan to rely on a computer algorithm to moderate results predicted by teachers – fearing the impact on pupils in poorer areas.
It means students will now potentially choose between the marks they are awarded, their mock results, or – if they are not happy with either of those – they can resit the exam in the autumn.
“The idea of introducing at the eleventh hour a system in which mock exam results trump calculated grades beggars belief,” he said.
“The government doesn’t appear to understand mock exams. They aren’t a set of exams which all conform to the same standards. And some students will not have taken them by the time that schools closed in March.”
Kate Green, Labour’s shadow education secretary, criticised “a really chaotic situation,” and questioned how schools would be able to stage the retakes.
“Not all students will have even taken mock exams and what we've now got is a system which clearly is not fit for purpose,” she told BBC Breakfast.
In a further problem, it is understood that universities have not been consulted on the new plan – despite already making admissions decisions, based on receiving the results confidentially.
Nick Gibb, the schools’ minister, refused to apologise for the confusion, saying: “We apologise to nobody for finding a solution, even at the 11th hour,” he said.
He argued only a “small cohort of students” would be affected by the change, which would be “a safety net” to ensure no students were left disadvantaged.
Schools, rather than the pupils themselves, would submit appeals against moderated results, with mock exams “another source of evidence” for that.
Mr Gibb defended the use of the algorithm, despite it being abandoned in Scotland, arguing there would be an indefensible 12 per cent grade inflation without it.
“We did look at what happened in Scotland. We were worried about that. We are not changing the fundamental system here as they are in Scotland,” he said.
“There is no confusion. We have been very clear from the very beginning. We had to have a system in place to award qualifications to young people given that we had cancelled the exams.”
And he insisted: “Tomorrow, children can be confident in the grades that they receive.”
The government was facing anger from Conservative MPs if the problems exposed in Scotland were repeated, prompting speculation that No 10 had ordered the U-turn.
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