Coronavirus: 'Refund our exam fees,' say heads

Academy chain boss says he expects a 'substantial' rebate, as exam boards won't be required to mark or moderate papers
1st April 2020, 5:12pm


Coronavirus: 'Refund our exam fees,' say heads
Coronavirus: Will Schools Get Money Back After Gcses & A Levels Were Cancelled?

Schools should be refunded for this year's exam fees, as cancellations mean boards' expenses will be "nowhere near" the normal rate, heads have said.

While exam boards will have accrued "some costs" throughout the year, these will be significantly lower than average - meaning schools should be entitled to some form of "appropriate refund", according to the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL).

The union says that boards could reflect this year's savings in lower fees for the 2021 exam series.

Related: Exam fee refunds for schools 'unlikely'

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Background: Teacher assessments will be used for exams

The head of a multi-academy trust has also said he is expecting a "substantial" rebate, as exam boards will not be required to mark or moderate papers.

Coronavirus: Will schools get money back for cancelled exams?

However, one former exam board chief recently warned that if any refunds do materialise they would be "marginal".

Geoff Barton, ASCL general secretary, told Tes today: "Exam boards will have accrued some costs this year even though the exams themselves are cancelled but these costs are clearly nowhere near what would normally be expected, and schools and colleges should be given some form of appropriate refund.

"We are considering how this would best be achieved. We recognise that the immediate priority is to manage the system of moderated assessment so that students receive grades this year which will allow onward progression.

"Our initial thinking is that the saving on exam fees should, therefore, be reflected in lower fees in next year's exam series.

"We will be seeking views from our members, Ofqual and the exam boards."

School leaders' union NAHT said the issue was "on our radar", and that the union would be "having further discussions with Ofqual and JCQ [the Joint Council for Qualifications] on the matter".

Paul Whiteman, NAHT general secretary, said: "School leaders are dealing with extremely challenging issues in their schools and it would seem reasonable in the current circumstances that flexibility is applied by exam boards in pressing schools to meet previously set deadlines for payments.

"In addition, members have asked us about the fee being charged and whether this remains appropriate when the summer series of exams and assessments has been cancelled.

"Government, Ofqual and the exam boards must work together to answer these valid questions and let schools know as a matter of urgency whether there will be any reduction in exams fees or a rebate later in the year."

Jonny Uttley, chief executive officer of The Education Alliance Multi-Academy Trust, said it is "reasonable" for school leaders to expect a partial refund, as boards will not incur "considerable costs" in the absence of formal tests.

He told Tes: "In terms of exam fees, we do not expect to pay the usual full fees this summer.

"Although we expect some cost for the awarding of grades, there will be no marking of papers, no moderators or other processes that incur considerable costs.

"Therefore, although it will take exam boards some time, it is reasonable for school leaders to expect a considerable rebate from fees."

Asked what proportion of fees should be refunded, he said: "I wouldn't want to commit to a percentage at this point but I would expect a substantial rebate. Boards should refund any costs they genuinely do not incur."

Mr Uttley said his trust will be redeploying a portion of its exams budget to cover the cost of its own free school meals voucher scheme over the Easter holidays, to compensate for what he claims is a lack of government support over the two-week break.

"Schools in The Education Alliance Multi-Academy Trust have been operating our own £15 weekly supermarket voucher scheme for the last two weeks - three days before the government shut schools for most pupils," he said.

"Given concerns around this unique set of circumstances, we have decided to extend the voucher scheme for the two-week holiday.

"We have chosen to redirect some of the money we had budgeted for exam fees to supporting children and families who may need some extra help.

"Across four secondary schools, we budgeted £599,000 in exam fees for this year. We estimate the cost of two weeks of our free school meals voucher plan is around £36,000."

He added: "School leaders know that many pupils and their families are facing even more extreme poverty as a result of the coronavirus crisis.

"The government's response to the free school meals challenge was slow and there is a missed opportunity to support families during the Easter holiday by not extending the voucher scheme for those two weeks as an exceptional measure.

"Our plan all along has been to sort the problem now and worry about the detail later. That remains the case."

Heads have said the government's national voucher scheme, officially launched yesterday by the Department for Education, will be "welcome news" for schools.

But teachers have criticised the DfE's decision not to extend the scheme over the Easter holidays.

Asked if exam fees could be refunded, the DfE referred the matter to exams regulator Ofqual.

Ofqual said it was unable to comment on the subject of exam fees at this time.

Tes also contacted the three major exam boards for comment.

AQA said no decision had been made on fees yet, but it would keep schools updated.

A spokesperson for Pearson said: "Our overwhelming priority is to support teachers and their students during this time of uncertainty.

"Learners in schools, colleges and higher education across the UK have put in huge amounts of work to get to this point and we intend to ensure they achieve the grades they deserve to move to the next stage.

"We continue to work around the clock with the Department for Education, Ofqual and the other exam boards to define the detail of how this will work and will share information as soon as we have it.

"We know that schools, teachers and students have many specific questions around the impact of the changes to the delivery of qualifications this summer, and will be communicating about this in the coming weeks.

"We thank them for their patience and understanding in these unprecedented times."

A spokesperson for OCR said: "We know these are challenging times for everyone in schools and colleges.

"Our top priority is working flat out so students get the grades they deserve this summer and can progress.

"We appreciate schools have questions about fees and we'll be sharing our plans about these as soon as we can, as we're committed to keeping schools informed."

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