Exams

‘Difficult to swallow’: Leaders criticise exam fee hikes of up to 17%

Exam boards will earn several million pounds more from schools - but say they have to cover the costs

Exam boards will earn several million pounds more from schools - but say they have to cover the costs

Exclusive

Academy trusts face having to pay out tens of thousands more in GCSE and A-level exam fees this year after boards hiked prices by up to 17 per cent. 

Both Edexcel, run by Pearson, and OCR have raised fees for all 2023 exams by a flat 6 per cent.

England’s largest exam board AQA has hiked prices by between five and 17 per cent, although it is still has the lowest prices overall.

Exam boards, which will earn several million pounds more from schools after the rises, said they needed to cover rising costs.

But leaders said the increases were “inappropriate” as schools battle soaring energy and staffing costs. 

‘This isn’t going to wash’

Jonny Uttley, CEO of multi-academy trust The Education Alliance, told Schools Week the inflation argument “isn’t going to wash” with school leaders.

“Although I fully understand exam boards have rising costs, passing these directly through to schools is quite inappropriate in the current climate.”

Frustration over fees grew last year after Schools Week revealed boards were raising prices despite exams being cancelled and teachers instead deciding grades.

Jonny Uttley

AQA has hiked prices for A-level art by 17 per cent – from £89.65 to £105.10. Other subjects have seen rises of between 5 and 12 per cent.

The non-for-profit organisation said increases for the majority of its qualifications were “well-below inflation” – currently at 9.9 per cent.

Rises above inflation are to “better reflect the market and true costs of delivering these qualifications”.

Fees for A-level biology, chemistry and physics have risen by 10 per cent while GCSE geography and art have risen by 12 per cent. A maths GCSE now costs £41.20, up from £39.15.

The board’s fees remain the cheapest and last year were only raised 2 per cent after a backlash when exams were cancelled. 

AQA could boost income by £5m

It means an average-size secondary, with 200 year 11s taking nine of the most popular GCSEs with AQA could pay an extra £4,840. This would cost around £30,000 for an average multi-academy trust with seven secondary schools.

If entry rates for these subjects remain the same as this summer, it means AQA could gain an extra £4.9 million. But the board said this would only cover costs.

Tracey Newman, AQA’s director of customer and sales, said her organisation understood “that no-one wants to see prices increase, but like many organisations we’re experiencing a rise in the cost of providing our services”.

“As an independent charity, we don’t charge more than we need to for our qualifications and services, and we’ve kept entry fee increases well below the rate of inflation for the majority of our qualifications.”

AQA aims to keep prices “fair and competitive” and fees are reinvested into developing qualifications, maintain a wide choice of subjects and help support and train teachers.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of school leaders’ union ASCL, said the rises constituted “another cost pressure on schools and colleges which simply cannot afford such increases without additional government funding being made”.

Covid exams
Barton

“At a time when schools and colleges are under growing financial pressure, we would expect exam boards to restrain costs as much as possible. Certainly an increase that is above the pay award for most teachers is difficult to swallow.”

Edexcel has hiked fees by six per cent this year. The cost of a maths GCSE is now £46.80 compared to £44 last year. 

Across nine subjects for 200 year 11s, this works out an extra £5,060 – or £35,420 for a trust with seven secondary schools.

Based on last year’s entry rates, that is an extra £2.1 million for Pearson.

‘We recognise budgets are stretched’

A spokesperson said they recognised school budgets “are stretched” and “we will always aim to keep fee increases to a minimum while providing as much value for money as possible”.

“Qualification fees enable us to provide everything that is needed through the course – from preparing the course content and assessments, teaching and learning support for schools, through to marking and delivering results.”

Likewise OCR, owned by Cambridge University Press & Assessment, is hiking fees by 6 per cent. A maths GCSE now costs £47, up from £44.25.

With similar entry rates to last year across nine GCSE subjects, this would see OCR gain an extra £383,000.

An OCR spokesperson said they knew schools were facing “several financial challenges” and “aim to keep any fee increases as low as possible”. 

They use fee funds to provide subject resources, training, access to subject experts and new technology. It is not-for-profit.

All three boards have hiked fees by around 13 per cent since 2020 – although some subjects for AQA have risen by between 15 and 20 per cent.

However, each board part-refunded schools when exams were cancelled.

OCR gave the biggest rebate of 42 per cent in 2021, while Pearson gave 33 per cent. AQA initially gave 26 per cent before refunding an extra £3.5 million this year.

Latest education roles from

Apprenticeship Skills Tutor – Level 7 Senior Leadership / Management

Apprenticeship Skills Tutor – Level 7 Senior Leadership / Management

RNN Group

GCSE and Functional Skills English Lecturer

GCSE and Functional Skills English Lecturer

Riverside College

MIS (Management Information Systems) Assistant

MIS (Management Information Systems) Assistant

RNN Group

EA to the CEO & Senior Directors

EA to the CEO & Senior Directors

Haberdashers’ Academies Trust South

Chief Executive Officer Cornwall Education Learning Trust (CELT)

Chief Executive Officer Cornwall Education Learning Trust (CELT)

Satis Education

Head of Faculty (History and RS)

Head of Faculty (History and RS)

Ark Greenwich Free School

Sponsored posts

Sponsored post

How can we prepare learners for their future in an ever-changing world?

By focusing their curriculums on transferable skills, digital skills, and sustainability, schools and colleges can be confident that learners...

SWAdvertorial
Sponsored post

Inspiring Education Leaders for 10 Years

The 10th Inspiring Leadership Conference is to be held on 13 and 14 June 2024 at the ICC in...

SWAdvertorial
Sponsored post

Inspire creativity in your classroom. Sky Arts’ Access All Arts week is back!

Now in its third year, Access All Arts week is a nationwide celebration of creativity for primary schools (17-21...

SWAdvertorial
Sponsored post

Unleash the Power of Sport in your setting this summer! National School Sports Week is back!

Unleash the Power of Sport this summer with National School Sports Week powered by Monster Kickabout! From 17-23 June,...

SWAdvertorial

More from this theme

Exams

Exams: Entries boost in statistics and engineering GCSEs

Further maths and physics A-levels also see increase in entries, but GCSE citizenship and A-level sociology become less popular

Freddie Whittaker
Exams

Sir Ian Bauckham is Keegan’s pick for permanent Ofqual chief

But his confirmation will be left up to whoever forms the next government

Freddie Whittaker
Exams

Civil service boss: Covid exams U-turn ‘most awful governing ever’

Simon Case said in August 2020 that 'lots of people should lose their heads' over exams fiasco

Samantha Booth
Exams

Exams: GCSE and A-level prices soar by inflation-busting 6.4%

CPI over the same period was 3.8%, but Ofqual says prices in line with inflation over a longer period

Freddie Whittaker

Your thoughts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *