Ofqual's new price guide will show 'real cost' of the exam system

Ofqual has promised to publish an exams price guide that will include increased qualification costs.

The exams regulator announced in its corporate plan published last month that it will release a qualifications price index next year, “measuring changes over time in the published price of a representative sample of qualifications”.

It will track the prices of academic and vocational qualifications and be updated annually.

A spokesperson for the regulator said: “Our index will offer a measure of the qualification market as a whole and the ability to divide the market up, showing, for example, that a basket of representative construction qualification costs went up by a particular percentage, while business qualifications went down by a particular percentage in the year.

“This will help us, purchasers, awarding organisations and other stakeholders understand price movements and consider possible causes. These could include taking note of where market pressure points are, where consumer interest is waning, or where a new market is emerging with insufficient capacity.”

A test version developed earlier this year was “well received” by exam boards.

Andrew Harland, the chief executive of the Examination Officers’ Association, said the publication of the data would “put a real cost on the exam system”, which could have benefits.

But it also could result in decisions based on market competition, rather than education, and lead to a decrease in subjects that were more expensive, such as music and art, which often required extra resources and external examiners.

Dr Mary Richardson, the associate professor of education at the UCL Institute of Education, welcomed the added transparency as most people were not aware of how much qualifications cost. But she echoed concerns about treating education as a commodity. “Is it going to be a Which? guide to your GCSE in maths or Latin, including pros and cons and ‘best buy’?

“That frightens me because it’s further commodification. And where’s it going to end? It could be the poorest schools with the most deprived pupils… are going to have less choice because it will come down to money.”

Figures published last year show schools spent £296 million on exam fees in 2016-17, up from £207 million in 2002-03.

But Harland said education should be “delivering what’s needed, not what the system feels it can afford”.

It is also unclear if late fees will feature in the index. Schools Week revealed in 2017 that schools saved more than £1 million by entering more pupils on time for exams.

Schools must pay a premium to exam boards for every late entrant, doubling or tripling the cost.

The average entry fee for English language GCSE and maths GCSE was £35 across all exam boards.

Duncan Baldwin, the deputy director of policy at the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: “It seems to add transparency to the whole process of what is a pretty tricky landscape of qualifications for schools and colleges to navigate.

“We think it will help exam centres look at value for money more effectively… we welcome it.”

Ofqual said it had no further information at this stage.