DfE to cover 2021 autumn exam costs for students and schools

The DfE will refund schools for exam fees and costs.

The Department for Education has confirmed it will reimburse schools for the cost of organising autumn exams and covering fees for students unhappy with teacher-assessed grades.

The government says that given the “unique circumstances” of Covid, students and families should not have to cover exam entry fees if they decide to sit exams in the hope of improving results from summer 2020 or 2021. Traditionally many students have had to fund resits themselves.

Schools are expected to cover most of the costs using rebates from cancelled GCSE, AS, A-level and vocational and technical qualifications exams this summer. The DfE said in new guidance it expects rebates to cover students’ fees in “almost all cases”.

They are unlikely to get back all of their cash from exam boards, however. Last year, just a quarter of exam fees were refunded to schools by AQA, Pearson and OCR. Heads have demanded a 75 per cent rebate this year.

The government has now confirmed as last year it will allow schools to make an “exam fee deficit claim” where they face a shortfall.

It will also provide a wider support package for schools’ costs in organising exams, with claims to open in the autumn. Similar measures were provided last year, but it was previously unclear if the aid would be repeated.

The funding will cover the cost of having to hire additional venue capacity and invigilators, after any savings from cancelled exams this summer are taken into account.

There is now extra funding too for training new invigilators. Schools must justify paying any more than £245, the annual membership fee of the Exams Office which covers training for up to 200 invigilators.

The DfE will also reimburse schools’ fees for students who took exams in summer 2020 but either did not enter last autumn’s exams or missed them for Covid-related reasons.

Ofqual had confirmed in May any student receiving teacher-assessed grades, or who would have entered summer 2021 exams if they had taken place, could take the same GCSE, AS or A-level exam this autumn.

AS and A-level exams will be held in October, and GCSEs in November and December.

Ofqual’s consultation acknowledged autumn exams would increase costs for exam boards, schools and colleges. As entry numbers are likely to be low, exam boards are “unlikely to recover their costs unless they significantly increase their entry fees”.

They could “reasonably be expected to take account of costs of providing autumn exams when calculating the size of any rebate” for cancelled summer exams.

One school leader had highlighted fears in their consultation response that costs would “fall on schools” without any extra funding, while another highlighted “hidden costs” including maintaining records, venue management and ex-student “no shows”.

It is understood funding will also be set aside to help awarding organisations with the cost of autumn exams.

A Department for Education spokesperson said teachers would determine grades as holding exams this summer “would not have been” fair given Covid disruption.

“It is right that where students wish to improve their grades, they have the opportunity to sit an exam this autumn, as was the case last year. We recognise the efforts schools and colleges will make during the autumn exam series, which is why we are providing support with costs including invigilation, additional exam space, and fees.”

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