Schools in England will be able to appeal A-level and GCSE grades free of charge, the Education Secretary has said.
He said it would be a “shocking injustice” if cost stopped the process for pupils with a “strong and legitimate” case.
It came after almost 40 per cent of A-level assessments by teachers were downgraded by the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation's (Ofqual) algorithm after students were unable to take exams due to coronavirus lockdown .
Appeals against grades vary between exam boards, with charges of up to £150 for an independent review, and costs are refunded if the appeal is upheld.
Mr Williamson’s announcement came amid further criticism of the Government’s handling of the exams system . Ministers have faced backlash over the number of results that were lowered, as well as a last minute U-turn, meaning students might be able to rely on mock exam results instead of their official grades .
Protesters gathered outside Downing Street on Friday chanting for Mr Williamson to be sacked, a call echoed by some opposition MPs.
And the Royal Statistical Society has written to the Office of Statistics Regulation to ask for a review into whether “the models and processes adopted by the qualification regulators did, in fact, achieve quality and trustworthiness”.
But Prime Minister Boris Johnson has insisted he has confidence in Mr Williamson and described the system as “robust”.
Conservative MPs voiced concerns about the process used by exam regulator Ofqual to moderate A-level results, with Sir Robert Syms suggesting the Westminster Government may have to follow Scotland’s lead if the appeals procedure failed to deal with the issues.
The SNP-led administration at Holyrood opted to allow results estimated by teachers to be accepted.
Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham also said he is considering a legal challenge against Ofqual over the “unfair” A-level results process, given the impact on pupils in his region.
Outlining how the Government did not want to deter schools from appealing, Mr Williamson told the Times: “I do not want a youngster to feel they are in a situation where there is a strong and legitimate case for grounds for appeal, but an appeal is not made on grounds of cost.
“That would be a real, shocking injustice.
“You will have obviously a large number of appeals. But I would rather have a strong, robust fair appeals process that makes sure that youngsters get the grades that they deserve as against being in a situation where there is an injustice that carries on.”
Mr Williamson again said there would be “no U-turn” on the grading system, claiming this would “severely erode” the value of qualifications and lead to grade inflation.
Ofqual has said that a “rare few centres” put in “implausibly high judgments”, and said that an appeals process is in place to correct any mistakes.
Shadow education secretary Kate Green said Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer had called for appeals to be made free over 24 hours previously.
“But once again, this Government have been far too slow to act and have failed young people,” she said.
“The Government must now go further and allow students to use teacher assessed grades to ensure they can get the results they deserve.”
Liberal Democrat education spokeswoman Layla Moran called for Mr Williamson to step down from his role with immediate effect.
She said: “Gavin Williamson is an education secretary out of his depth and out of excuses. He must take responsibility for his mistakes and step down with immediate effect.
“Our young people and our country cannot afford these blunders to continue into September, ahead of a potential second wave.”
School leaders have been left feeling “angry” and “disappointed” with this year’s system for awarding grades, after nearly two in five (39.1per cent) of teachers’ estimates for A-level pupils in England were adjusted down by one grade or more on Thursday by exam boards after this summer’s exams were cancelled amid Covid-19.
On Ofqual’s defence of their model for standardising results, Keziah Featherstone, head of Q3 Academy Tipton in the West Midlands, said: “It is absurd. It’s treating us like idiots. We are professionals.
“I don’t know any school that didn’t go through an incredibly rigorous process to come up with their centre-assessment grades. I am embarrassed that they have come up with that as a statement.”
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “School leaders and their teams have behaved with integrity and professionalism. We need to trust them.
“They were tasked with clear guidance to submit centre-assessed grades and they took that process incredibly seriously, taking time to consider all of the available evidence.
“What evidence does Ofqual have that these schools had not significantly changed from their historic data?”
Avis Gilmore, deputy general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU) said: “The disastrous delivery of A-level results has exposed all the weaknesses in the system.
“This has nothing to do with teacher assessment and everything to do with students being downgraded and disadvantaged by the circumstances of where they live and the school they attend.
“The only credible solution for 2020 is to award students the grades their teachers assessed they would have achieved.”