Schools in England will be able to appeal against A-level and GCSE grades free of charge, the education secretary has confirmed.
Gavin Williamson said it would be a “shocking injustice” if cost stopped appeals being made on behalf of pupils with a “strong and legitimate” case.
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.
There were 3,205 appeals against grades granted for GCSEs, AS and A-levels for exams sat in summer 2019, equivalent to 0.05% of all entries, and 16% – of 516 grades – were changed, according to figures from Ofqual.
Williamson’s announcement came amid further criticism of the government’s handling of the exams system, after thousands of pupils in England had their results downgraded.
Protesters gathered outside Downing Street on Friday chanting for 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 Boris Johnson has insisted he has confidence in 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, 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.”
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 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 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.”
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.