Parents must pay if pupils miss exams, school warns

Leaders say school's approach is 'unusual' and shows 'complete disregard for the mental health' of pupils sitting exams

Leaders say school's approach is 'unusual' and shows 'complete disregard for the mental health' of pupils sitting exams

13 May 2022, 5:00

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A school has written to parents warning that they will have to pay for their child’s exams fees if they do not turn up without a good reason.

Education leaders said the direct approach was “unusual” and showed “complete disregard for the mental health” of pupils sitting exams.

However, others have said there is “nothing new” in schools reserving the right to charge parents, but it can act as a way of “incentivising candidates to turn up”. 

Seaford Head School, in East Sussex, wrote to GCSE pupils, parents and carers last week to provide extra information ahead of next week’s exams.

It included advice on the timings of exams and other tips.

However, the letter also warned that “if a student is entered for an examination and fails to attend any component of the examination, the school will expect to recover the entry fee from that student and/or his/her parents/carers”.

The latter part of the sentence was in bold type.


Exceptions would only be made in unforeseen circumstances or medical grounds, the letter added.

There are strict rules banning state schools from charging parents for things associated with their child’s education. They are not allowed to charge parents for exam fees if the pupil has been prepared for it at the school.

However, under the education act of 1996, fees can actually be charged if a child does not turn up to an exam “without good reason”.

‘Complete disregard’ for pupil mental health

Hilary Goldsmith, a school business leader whose child is preparing for GCSEs at Seaford, said she had never come across such warnings before.

She said including the information among exam tips showed a “complete disregard for the mental health” of pupils sitting exams. Those unlikely to attend may be experiencing “mental health concerns around exams themselves”.

A new survey from the Association of School and College leaders found more than eight in 10 headteachers reporting higher levels of stress and anxiety among exam pupils than in pre-pandemic years.


The letter could also place additional pressure on hard-up families, Goldsmith added. Most GCSE entry fees are around £40 but they can rise to nearly £80 for certain subjects.

“There’s enough pressure on the children to turn up and do well,” Goldsmith added.

However, Seaford Head said it was “normal procedure” to include the information in its pre-exam correspondence to ensure parents are aware in advance of exams. The school said it had never charged a pupil for missing a paper.

Tom Middlehurst, ASCL’s assessment specialist, said there was “nothing new” about schools reserving the right to charge parents when pupils miss exams without good reason.

He said some schools may write to parents to make them aware of the right to do so “as a way of incentivising candidates to turn up”.

Schools must ‘find right balance’ on exams

Dan Morrow, chief executive of Dartmoor Multi Academy Trust, said it was unusual for the school “to have it highlighted front and centre” as they were usually part of the “small print that no one ever really worries about”.


He said schools needed to find “the right balance between perceived persuasion and pressure”.

Some schools mention the charge on their website. Baysgarth School, in Barton-upon-Humber, says parents could be charged between £6 and £40 per exam “unless a satisfactory explanation can be given”.

Meanwhile, the exam information page for Northfleet Technology College, in Kent, warns that “failure to pay may result in your results being withheld”.

The Joint Council for Qualifications says schools cannot withhold results in this way. The school has since removed the line after being contacted by Schools Week. It said this was not policy and was included in error.

In 2017, Colchester Academy School improved its attendance by 1.1 per cent within weeks of warning pupils that non-attenders would be charged to enter their GCSE exams.

The school told media at the time that the number of students with an attendance figure below 90 per cent also decreased by half.

Matthew Clements-Wheeler, former chair of the Institute of School Business Leaders (ISBL) said schools were “doing everything they can to encourage” exam attendance but they should “think carefully” about the “tone and the nature of communication with students”.

The Department for Education said that schools “should make sure all options have been explored to support students and families to engage with exams, before considering recovering fees”.

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