Pearson to return 33% of exam fees to schools

Pearson has finally revealed its hand on exam fee rebates, announcing today it will return 33 per cent of fees for GCSE and A-levels back to schools.

The company’s exam board, Edexcel, will return £31 million in fees via a rebate to schools, meaning it sits in the middle of offers made by other exam boards.

AQA will give schools a 26 per cent rebate, while OCR and WJEC Eduqas announced they would return 42 per cent of fees.

Education leaders’ confidence in the awarding organisations will have been severely dented

AQA has faced particular criticism over its rebate. Heads mostly wanted three-quarters of their exam fee cash back.

Pearson retaining two-thirds of exam fees could attract further scrutiny as the for-profit company announced last month a “strong rebound” in its sales worldwide this year, with pay-outs for shareholders hiked.

Sharon Hague, managing director of Pearson School Qualifications, said: “We understand how challenging this year has been for schools, teachers and students and we have always been clear that we would pass any savings back to schools.

“Our priority continues to be to support teachers and students through what has been another difficult year.”

It means AQA is the only exam board to refund the same percentage as it did last year, when all four boards returned about a quarter of fees. However AQA has hinted it may give more cash back to schools. 

‘Deeply unjust given the work school staff have done’

The Association of School and College Leaders has again called on Ofqual to launch a “formal review” into the varying discount levels.

Tom Middlehurst, ASCL’s curriculum and inspection specialist, said the “muddled picture does not look fair to schools or colleges”.

“You do not need to be a mathematician to work out that some schools and colleges will be significantly worse off through no fault of their own and having done just as much work. This seems deeply unjust given all the work teachers and leaders have had to do that should normally be the job of exam boards.”

Tom Middlehurst

The union is also calling for government to “step up to the plate” and follow the Welsh government’s action of topping up rebates to 50 per cent.

“Education leaders’ confidence in the awarding organisations will have been severely dented by this summer’s bruising process and an Ofqual-led review must address this as we move towards normal service being resumed following the pandemic,” Middlehurst added.

The Department for Education said it is providing an estimated £25 million to schools, colleges and exam boards “to help with the costs this year for processing appeals, running autumn exams and accommodating private candidates”.

But they said awarding organisations are responsible for the level of exam fees and rebates.

In an email to schools today, Pearson said external auditors are carrying out a review of the rebate “to provide assurance that we are passing back the right amount of money”.

They have also published a visual guide aimed at giving schools “confidence” they are returning “everything that we can”.

Pearson is still reviewing the impact of this year’s arrangements on other qualifications, including BTEC.

“We remain committed to passing back to schools and colleges any net savings from this year and will update you in September once awarding is complete and we understand final costs,” Hague added.

Global firm posts £127m profit this year

The announcement comes after the multi-national publishing giant confirmed in July it would hike payouts to shareholders in September, and revealed it had already handed them £102 million so far this year.

The company recorded operating profits of £127 million worldwide in the first half of 2021, after a £23 million loss the previous year. Strong growth in online learning services and other divisions globally more than compensated for the income hit from cancelled exams in the UK.

The charity AQA has also faced scrutiny of its finances since the rebate announcement, with one head calling it a “joke” given the exam board’s £24.7 million net profits in 2019-20.

The profits helped boost AQA reserves to £119.9 million by last March. AQA expects to report a deficit for 2020-21 however, and has said funds are always reinvested given its charitable status.



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