Results in mock tests – which were held before schools were forced to close amid the Covid-19 crisis – will carry the same weight as the calculated results to be awarded this month, Gavin Williamson said.
The move, described by one union leader as “panicked and chaotic,” comes after unions called on the UK Government to follow Scotland’s lead in scrapping moderated grades as the downgrading of more than 124,000 results was reversed.
In a U-turn announced on Tuesday, Scotland’s Education Secretary John Swinney revealed that downgraded results would revert to the grades estimated by pupils’ teachers.
It comes after this year’s summer exams were cancelled amid Covid-19. Teachers were told to submit the grades they thought each student would have received if they had sat the papers.
Mr Gibb said only a small number would be affected by the move, which was designed as a “safety net” to ensure that no students were disadvantaged by the system for assessing their grades following the cancelling of exams.
“It is just making sure at the edges that no student is disadvantaged. This is just to give a safety net for any student who might fall through the system,” he told Sky News.
“It will only affect a small group of people. Most young people tomorrow will get the grade that the teacher sent in to the exam board that they thought they would get.”
Shadow education secretary Kate Green described the Government’s announcement on English students using mock exam results to progress to college and university as “chaotic”.
The MP for Stretford and Urmston said one of the problems is many students would not have sat mock exams.
“I don’t think this is a perfect answer at all to what is now becoming a really chaotic situation,” she told BBC Breakfast.
“And very, very worrying for (A-level) students the day before they’re due to get their results finding the system changing again.”
She added: “Not all students will have even taken mock exams and what we’ve now got is a system which clearly is not fit for purpose. The Government itself is clearly acknowledging that by announcing more and more changes to it.”
Ms Green said there needed to be a “proper robust” appeals process for students so that they are not dependant on “systems that may not fairly reflect the work that they’ve done”.
The shadow education secretary added that GCSE students should not be downgraded below a level 4 – the equivalent of the old grade C – in English and maths.
“Those subjects are so crucial for a student’s future path, whether into their chosen career or further study,” she told BBC Breakfast.
“And given the disruption that they have suffered this year to their education we do think it’s particularly important that we protect this Covid generation from further damage.”