Schools will be able to claim a £200 government grant per entry to cover the costs of assessing private candidates for GCSEs and A-levels in England this year.

Ministers have urged schools to sign up to help private candidates following the decision to cancel exams due to take place in the summer.

It follows concerns that the system of teacher assessment being used this year may disadvantage those not on roll at a school.

Last year, some private candidates cried foul after Ofqual told exam boards they could only issue calculated grades to students where the head of centre had provided a grade and ranked order.

Under plans for this year, schools will again be asked to grade private candidates, and will be provided with “clear guidance” on evidence they can use to assess them.

The DfE has today announced the creation of a new private candidate “support grant” to avoid extra costs associated with this year’s approach to assessment “being passed on to candidates”.

private candidates

Schools minister Nick Gibb

Schools minister Nick Gibb said the government recognised the work involved for exam centres for additional candidates.

“I urge any centre that can to accept private candidates so they are not unfairly impacted by this year’s circumstances,” he added.

Schools will receive information from the Joint Council for Qualifications this week on how to sign up.

Grant to cover costs of assessment approach

The grant will be available per entry, so for each qualification in each subject, and is on offer to any school that meets the eligibility criteria.

To be eligible, schools will have to be approved by exam boards to assess the qualifications and have been assigned a JCQ national centre number.

They must also be registered with each board and meet all relevant requirements, including being able to deliver the quality assurance and moderation processes this summer.

In a normal year, most private candidates pay the entry fee for their qualification, and an additional charge for the centre to administer that entry.

The £200 grant is intended by government to cover the costs an exam centre could incur this year because the assessment approach is different, along with the cost of any appeals.

The DfE said that in offering the grant it “would expect” schools “to consider minimising or removing the impact of passing on any other charges to private candidates”.

“Exam centres are expected to only charge private candidates the same fee they would charge in previous years where exams have taken place. The private candidate should, at a minimum, pay the exam board entry fee.”

Schools will not be eligible to claim the grant if the candidate has been “required” to contribute more than a “maximum fee” including both the exam board and centre fee. The maximums are £350 per subject at A-level, £250 at AS level and £200 at GCSE.

If a private candidate was already registered with the school, the DfE says the school may still be able to claim the grant, but only if the centre meets the criteria.

“The centre should check that they meet the criteria, and reimburse fees if necessary, if they wish to claim the grant for this candidate. If this is not possible, the candidate can choose to maintain the previous agreement, or transfer to another centre. It is at the existing centre’s discretion to consider refunding any fees paid so far if the candidate changes centre.”

But the DfE warned it was “not able” to get involved with “individual disputes”.

Schools will claim for the grant retrospectively, through an online claims service due to open in the autumn. But the timing of payments is “to be confirmed”.

List of schools for private candidates to use

At the end of March, the JCQ will publish a list of schools with capacity to accept further private candidates.

The DfE will work with JCQ to review the list and identify gaps in subject coverage and take “appropriate action” where possible.

But schools do not need to be on the list to claim the grant. For example, where a school takes a small number of private candidates with whom they have an existing relationship with, but does not have extra capacity.

If a student is resitting a qualification at the centre they originally took it at, which paid for it, the school cannot claim for the grant.

But if the student sat the original subject as a private candidate or they cannot return to the original exam centre, it can be claimed.

Schools cannot claim funding for candidates resitting GCSE English language or maths, and they should not claim if the exam fees are already included in part of the course, such as at an independent school.