Headteachers call for 75% examination fee rebate in England

Headteachers in England are calling for examination fee rebates of at least 75% to reflect the additional workload teachers have taken on this year as a result of the cancellation of A-level and GCSE exams for the second year running.

With the responsibility for assessing students having largely shifted from exam boards to schools and colleges this summer, nearly two-thirds of school leaders want at least a 75% rebate of exam fees for GCSEs, A-levels and other qualifications, which cost close to £117,000 a year in an average secondary school with a sixth form.

A survey of 457 members of the Association of School and College Leaders found that 45% of respondents were in favour of a 75% rebate from exam boards and a further 20% of headteachers thought it should be even more. Less than 2% thought a 25% rebate was adequate.

While the exam boards are sympathetic to the additional demands on teachers, there is likely to be dispute over the scale of any rebates, with boards insisting they still face significant costs, including the publication of extensive guidance and materials to support teachers and preparations for a full suite of exams to be run in autumn for the small number of students who wish to take them.

It is the second year that public examinations in England have had to be cancelled because of the Covid pandemic. Last year, the exam boards agreed to rebates of about 25%, but according to the ASCL general secretary, Geoff Barton, headteachers feel they are entitled to considerably more this year given the enormous workload that schools and colleges have taken on, at a time when school finances have been further stretched by the pandemic.

“Last year, schools and colleges were asked to assess students on the basis of the work that had been completed prior to the lockdown in March, but this year they have been asked to carry out an entire assessment process from scratch in the summer term,” said Barton.

Teachers have had to do all the marking, grading and quality assurance that would normally be carried out by exam boards, “so it seems pretty reasonable that they should receive a rebate that is commensurate with this massive task”, said Barton.

“We understand that the exam boards have incurred costs such as managing an external quality assurance process but it will be crucial that they set out very clearly and publicly an itemised list of their costs together with the resulting rebate that will be paid to centres, and that they do this as soon as possible.”

All three of the leading exam boards said any savings from the changes to exams would be passed back to schools. Pearson warned, however, that a 75% rebate was unrealistic.

“Exam fees don’t just cover exams – they cover the delivery of each qualification over a two-year period from first teaching to successful completion of the course and assessment,” a Pearson spokesperson said.

A spokesperson for OCR added: “We’ll confirm any savings we can pass on in the form of a rebate as soon as we finalise the costs involved and we hope to do this in July.”

AQA confirmed that money normally spent on marking will be given back to schools and colleges, which have also been given the option to pay just half their fees upfront, and the rest once final costs are known.

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