‘Ridiculous’: Boards slammed for raising exam fees at a time of crisis

Unions have accepted a pay offer that will see thousands of support staff paid an extra £1,925 this year, Unison has confirmed

Schools will pay millions of pounds more in exam fees this year after prices were increased – despite exams not going ahead and teachers being expected to mark any assessments that might be set.

However, boards have said fees had to be published now so that schools could set budgets. They pledged to return any savings once exact plans for their involvement for producing grades this year are known.

School and college leaders are furious about this issue and we would urge the exam boards to rethink this matter urgently

AQA, the UK’s largest provider of academic qualifications, has increased fees for some of its popular subjects across GCSE and A-level by about five per cent. GCSE English Literature has seen an 11 per cent rise.

It means an average size secondary, with 200 year-11s taking nine GCSEs, faces paying an extra £3,870.

Meanwhile, Pearson has increased fees by about two per cent.

Geoff Barton, general secretary at the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “It is very debatable about whether exam boards should be charging upfront full fees this year at all, given that they won’t be doing any marking, but the notion of an increase in fees at such a time is ridiculous.

exam fees
Geoff Barton

“School and college leaders are furious about this issue and we would urge the exam boards to rethink this matter urgently.”

Ofqual is consulting on how teachers will provide grades for pupils this year. It has proposed that exam boards will produce papers for pupils to sit. However, these would be marked by teachers. Exam boards will also provide guidance and training to teachers.

But Pearson and AQA have published their exam fees this week.

Setting exam fees ‘difficult’ says board boss

With AQA, a mathematics GCSE has risen from £36.50 last summer to £38.35 – an increase of £1.85.

Across nine popular subjects at GCSE, schools could face an additional £19.35 per pupil.

Schools Week analysis shows that if the entry numbers for 16-year-olds are the same as last year’s, from these nine subjects alone, AQA – a not-for-profit organisation – could rake in an extra £4.17 million.

At A-level, the entry fee for mathematics has risen from £116.45 to £122.30 – an increase of £5.85.

Mark Bedlow, AQA’s chief operating officer, said, “We work hard to keep any increases to a minimum. Setting fees for this year was difficult as we don’t yet know the arrangements and what they’ll cost – but schools need to get their entries in and need to know fees in order to do that.”

Bedlow said the “simplest option was to set fees at the level we would have if exams had gone ahead. As an education charity, we have no wish to profit from the pandemic so, as with last summer’s fees, where we refunded £42 million to schools and colleges, we’ll return any money we don’t need.”

However, as revealed by Schools Week exams boards returned to schools just 25 per cent of fees for last year’s cancelled exams.

At Pearson, a mathematics GCSE entry fee has risen from £41.50 to £42.40 – an increase of 90p.

Across nine GCSE subjects, this could cost an extra £7 per pupil. If entry numbers are the same as last summer, these subjects could bring in an extra £569,571 for the board.

A Pearson spokesperson said: “We have no wish to benefit financially from the cancellation of exams this year and will be passing any net savings back to schools.

“We know schools continue to face extraordinary challenges and have kept our prices as competitive as possible.”

The boards said they published their fees as it is a regulator requirement for exam boards to give schools and colleges notice in support of their planning.

But Stephen Morales, chief executive at the Institute of School Business Leadership, said an increase feels “poorly timed and poor judgment”.

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