GCSE and A-level students in England will be able to use grades in mock exams to progress to university and college courses and employment, the Education Secretary has announced.

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.

Exam boards have moderated these grades to ensure this year's results - for students in England, Northern Ireland and Wales - are not significantly higher than previous years.

But now students in England awaiting their A-level and GCSE results can keep their grades in mock exams if they are higher than the calculated grade, with regulator Ofqual asked to determine how and when valid mock results can be used.

Students will have to go through the appeals process to use their mock exam result, with their school required to submit evidence to the exam board.

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But they will still be able to sit exams in the autumn if they are unhappy with the grades they secured in mock exams, or if they are dissatisfied with results awarded by exam boards on Thursday.

The Department for Education said all three grades will hold the same value with universities, colleges and employers.

Mr Williamson also announced an additional £30 million in funding to help schools and colleges carry out the autumn exam series for students wishing to sit GCSE and A-level exams.

But the appeals process - where individual students in England are dependent on schools and colleges to appeal against results on their behalf - is expected to remain the same.

Mr Williamson said: "Every young person waiting for their results wants to know they have been treated fairly.

"By ensuring students have the safety net of their mock results, as well as the chance of sitting autumn exams, we are creating a triple lock process to ensure they can have the confidence to take the next step forward in work or education."

Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said the plan created potential for "massive inconsistency" as mock exams were not standardised and some students may not have taken them before schools closed in March.

He said: "The idea of introducing at the eleventh hour a system in which mock exam results trump calculated grades beggars belief. The government doesn't appear to understand how mock exams work. They aren't a set of exams which all conform to the same standards. The clue is in the name 'mock'.

"Schools and colleges have spent months diligently following detailed guidance to produce centre-assessed grades only to find they might as well not have bothered.

"If the government wanted to change the system it should have spent at least a few days discussing the options rather than rushing out a panicked and chaotic response."