Top A-Level and GCSE results will be easier to achieve this year after thresholds were lowered to avoid a slump in grades. The exam regulator Ofqual lowered grade boundaries to "protect" students from tougher standards brought in under reforms designed to drive up standards.
The softer stance means similar proportions of A-Level pupils opening their results on Thursday (17 August) will have passed and achieved top grades compared to last year with one quarter attaining A or A*.
Critics argue the intervention flies in the face of reforms unveiled by former education secretary Michael Gove but defending her decision, Sally Collier, the head of exam regulator Ofqual, said the new policy meant lower thresholds were necessary.
Sally Collier, chief regulator of Ofqual, told the SundayTimes: "I want the message to be that students have done fantastically well. All our kids are brilliant.
"From my point of view the most important thing for our students is that they get the praise they deserve for having undertaken new courses of study, whether A-levels or GCSEs, and we recognise the work schools have done to get there and we are not detracting from that."
"If we were not using the approach we are taking . . . we would see a fall in results this year and possibly a significant one," she said. "In any period of reform, with teachers teaching new stuff, doing it for the first time and fewer sample materials, you would expect grades to fall but we are protecting those students."
Collier admitted that some A-Level students receiving their results on Thursday and those opening their GCSE ones the week after (24 August) could expect unexpected results. Schools also fear the new system, which abolished coursework in favour of end-of-course exams, could also impact grades.
The first new exams for GCSE Maths and English were taken in summer 2017 and after courses started in two years earlier. Science courses followed suit in 2016 with the new grading starting in summer 2018. The remaining subjects begin the new courses in September. The new 9-1 grading system meant Grade 9 is reserved for the elite students.