Until now, candidates awarded GCSEs or A-levels had their initial results protected if they queried their grade. But the Government has decided that, where a check of papers reveals incorrect marking, subject grades can now be lowered, as well as raised or confirmed.
The change has been prompted by the decision to allow students to see their exam scripts. Access will be extended this summer to cover all A-level and GCSE scripts. Thousands of students sitting the new AS qualification will also have access to what they wrote in the exam hall.
Twice as many GCSE results and a third more A-level marks were upgraded on appeal last summer than in the previous year. A total of 29,628 A-level candidates queried their result last year, equivalent to 3.8 per cent of entries. Nearly a fifth of these had their scripts upgraded.
Inquiries about GCSE results totalled 57,772, or 1 per cent of the entries. About one in ten of these had their grades changed. The A-level reforms, which have increased the number of papes taken by about a fifth, could trigger an increase in appeals, putting pressure on the system.
The move to allow grades to be lowered has been attacked by David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers. He said the change was designed to discourage students from appealing."I do not see how they can say this is fair. The object of the exercise seems to be about putting people off appealing which is wholly inappropriate, particularly when a new qualification has just been introduced."
John Dunford, the general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association also predicted that appeals, particularly those instigated by parents rather than schools, would reduce as a result of the change.
Where the accuracy of a particular examiner is questioned by the exam board itself, rather than the student, papers can be re-marked without students' knowledge. In this special case the student's original grade will not be lowered.
The Qualification and Curriculum Authority said there was support for the principle of lowering grades as this was seen to be fairer to all candidates.