a school has been forced to make an "unreserved apology" to pupils after failing to teach the full syllabus needed for their A-level history exam.
Students at Southfields community college in Wandsworth, south-west London, were only able to answer one question, instead of two out of three, on the paper because other material had not been covered in class The teacher responsible, who started at the school at the beginning of this academic year, has resigned.
The school wrote to the OCR exam board to ask for special consideration for the seven students. But the exam board said the pupils did not qualify for special consideration in this case. The school is to appeal. Universities where the pupils had hoped to study have also been contacted. Pupils who have applied for popular courses may have to attend their second choice universities or go through clearing for unfilled places.
A spokesman for the school said: "We would like to apologise unreservedly to those pupils and their parents who have been affected by this. We are determined to learn all the lessons we can to make sure this kind of mistake never happens again. We are also taking determined steps to ensure that none of the students are disadvantaged in any way when it comes to securing places at university."
Jacqueline Valin, the headteacher, wrote to the parents and pupils affected after last month's exam. "I apologise for this error and accept full responsibility," she said. "I am fully aware of the distress this has caused as I spoke with the group of students immediately after the examination."
Exam candidates had to answer two questions from three topics in the hour-and half exam. But the students had only been prepared to answer one question, on American black civil rights.
Topics they were not taught included discrimination against native Americans and Hispanics, John F. Kennedy's New Frontier programmes and the organisation of labour.
No explanation has been given as to how the mistake happened. The school has said it will arrange extra lessons for any pupils who decide to resit the exam.
One of the students affected said: "I am shocked. I told my head of year about it straight away. My first choice university has said it will not be able to accept lower grades because the course is oversubscribed."
Wandsworth council said it supported the school's efforts with the exam board and universities.
A spokesman said: "Once the exam board has completed its investigation we will be looking at its findings and also at what measures the school puts in place to ensure this does not happen again."
A spokeswoman for OCR said the pupils did not qualify for special consideration, but that the case was going to an appeal.
The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority said exam boards approved more than 270,000 requests for special consideration in 2006 for reasons including pupil illness and other unforeseen problems. It does not keep figures for appeals resulting from schools failing to prepare pupils properly.
In Scotland, where exam papers are not re-marked, pupils are able to appeal exam grades by providing evidence of their performance throughout the school year. This system is used for all appeals.