Ministers should consider allowing exam candidates to lodge their own appeals over results if their school or college will not back them, according to the independent exams watchdog.
The Independent Appeals Authority for School Examinations - the last resort for those appealing over results - said approaches from candidates and parents had reached an all-time high, showing "a significant unmet need for I a channel to voice their concerns independently".
At present, only examination centres - schools and colleges - can appeal over results. But some parents feel centres are failing to take their concerns seriously, the IAASE said in its annual report, published last week.
The authority also wants its powers extended to include appeals in general national vocational qualifications and other public qualifications. At present it covers only GCSE, A-levels and AS-levels.
Authority chair Dame Elizabeth Anson, said: "We believe that for all public examinations there should be the opportunity to make an appeal not only to the examining body making the award but also beyond it. That we feel is the best way of ensuring fairness for all."
Set up by the Department for Education in 1990 under the Parent's Charter, the IAASE hears only a handful of cases each year, but has seen a steady growth in business. The biggest rise has come from state schools, although private schools still make up more than a third of enquiries.
Last year's total of 132 enquiries - 32 of them from candidates - was a new record. The 53 per cent rise on 1995 is attributed largely to growing awareness of the authority's work.
Twelve enquiries led to applications for hearings. So far only six have been heard, prompting renewed concern over the slowness of the appeals process.
Philomena Waldron, appeals manager, said: "It still seems as if every now and then there is a great hold-up and the board doesn't appear to the outsider to act for some months and drags it out."
The authority has no power to remark or regrade papers but rules on boards' procedures. One case which provoked concern this year was raised by Hatch End High School in Harrow over the Edexcel Foundation's English GCSE exam.
The board realised early on during marking that one of its examiners was grading too low and ordered all the examiner's scripts to be remarked - but the board admits it was never carried out. The error came to light when Hatch End appealed over its results. The IAASE has ordered all the school's scripts to be remarked.
On Your Marks...!, the annual report of the Independent Appeals Authority for School Examinations, available from the IAASE, Newcombe House, 45 Notting Hill Gate, London W11 3JB.