The Education Secretary said exams needed to be “modernised” to enable British students to compete with the rest of the world.
Sixth-formers are preparing to collect their A-level results in what experts said will be the toughest year yet for those who miss out on top grades.
“Near-miss” students who attempt to secure a place through clearing are likely to find it harder because universities can for the first time admit unlimited numbers of students with grades of AAB or above. Limits remain on the number of other students.
Andrea Robertson, of clearing organisation Ucas, said: “For some courses there is an increased likelihood that some institutions will not be able to accept near–miss applicants.”
Writing in The Times today, Mr Gove said politicians had failed to ensure the exam system worked in the interests of all students.
He said: “Our young people are as capable of academic excellence as anyone. They need to be. Because the world is getting more competitive and they are up against billions of others in the race for jobs and university places. That is why we must make sure that our exam system, the training ground on which they prepare for the adult world, can match the world’s best.
“Academic rigour is liberating, not limiting. Students with good passes, especially in traditional subjects, have more opportunities in life.” Chris Keates, general secretary of teachers’ union the NASUWT, said: “Tomorrow’s results are the culmination of an immense amount of hard work by students and schools, and for once it would be good if they could enjoy their success without the usual serial gripers seeking to undermine their achievements.
“This year’s results are being released against a backdrop of increasing attacks on our examinations system, with ministers and commentators seeking to whip up a false crisis about ‘gold standard’ qualifications, grade inflation and dumbing down.
A spokesman for higher education action group Universities UK said: “Students who didn’t get the grades they were hoping for should keep calm, speak to advisers on the phone, the admissions people and universities.”
Those starting university this year will be the first to pay £9,000 tuition fees. Despite a 50,000 drop in applications, there are still far more applicants than places.