Call to axe exam regime

SCHOOLS and colleges in England and Wales have paid out a massive pound;185 million in exam fees this year.

A detailed analysis by The TES shows the burgeoning cost of the exam system and the pressure it is putting on budgets. The total is nearly equal to the sum allocated to the teacher recruitment and retention fund, and provides further fuel to those who believe the assessment system is out of control.

More cash will have to be found to pay for the surge in resits. Students now regard them as the norm and are applying for as many as 15 papers at a time.

The most expensive exams are vocational A-level double awards, which count as two A-levels. Awarding body OCR charges pound;166.20 (pound;13.85 a unit) to enter pupils for the 12-unit qualification, compared to AQA's pound;99. Work-related qualifications cost more to enter than academic equivalents.

The bill provides ammunition for the unions' call for a radical and urgent review of a system described as "elaborate, extensive and expensive" by David Hargreaves, former head of the Government's exam watchdog and adviser to Education Secretary Estelle Morris.

John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said:

"Too large a proportion of school and college budgets is now taken up with exams. This figure strengthens calls for a reduction in the amount of external exams."

Dissatisfaction is felt at every level of the teaching profession and is exacerbated by widely publicised blunders by exam boards which are struggling to cope with overwhelming numbers of increasingly complex entries.

Controversy over grade inflation and university criticism of the system's inability to distinguish adequately between the performance of the best candidates have also weakened the foundations.

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