Hundreds of thousands of young people are set to receive their exam results – with high A-level grades expected in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Vocational BTec results are also out on Tuesday – and, in Scotland, Higher and National results will be issued.
This is the second year of replacement results, after exams were again cancelled in the coronavirus pandemic.
Record numbers of people are applying to university – and higher grades could put pressure on places.
Last summer, after a U-turn over A-level results, record numbers of top grades were awarded – with 38.6% of entrants achieving an A* or A grade – and there have been suggestions this year’s grades could be as high again or even higher.
But National Association of Head Teachers’ leader Paul Whiteman rejected warnings of “grade inflation”, saying: “The results in 2021 cannot be easily compared to any other year.”
Association of School and College Leaders head Geoff Barton said comparing this year’s results with previous years’ was like “comparing apples with oranges”, adding: “This cohort of students has suffered more educational disruption than any cohort since the Second World War.”
Meanwhile, Simon Lebus, interim chairman of the exams watchdog, Ofqual, said students had been “fairly treated” and the grades, based on teachers’ judgements, could be trusted.
Schools could use a range of evidence for grades, including “mini-exams”, coursework and mock exams – with one in five schools having a sample of their grades checked by exam boards.
The Education Policy Institute said grades would be much higher overall but of more concern would be “inconsistencies”.
Universities have had more than 680,000 applications, higher than ever before, and with many students set to achieve high grades, there have been early warnings the most popular universities and courses may be over-subscribed.
Medical courses, faced with too many achieving the required grades, are already offering cash incentives for students to defer until next year.
Vocational exam results are also being published – and Kirstie Donnelly, of City & Guilds, said young people should “explore all the options open to them”, including apprenticeships and degree apprenticeships.
England’s Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, praised students for their work in an “extraordinary and challenging year”.
“We should all celebrate their resilience and ability to overcome adversity,” he said.
But Labour’s shadow education secretary, Kate Green, said the government had not supported young people and “let them down at every turn”.