Exam prices rise for the third time in three years

Rising costs due to government's 'poorly thought-out' exam reforms, says union

Catherine Lough

Coronavirus: More than half of schools are now using up their reserves to cover Covid-related expenses, research warns

The price of GCSE and A levels has risen for the third time in three years, according to Ofqual’s first ever exams price guide.

The weighted average price of a GCSE is now £39.31 compared with £37.30 in 2018, while an A level now costs £97.76 compared with £92.44 last year.

Exclusive: 'Raise exam fees to fund free appeals'

News: What does early GCSE entry do for pupil achievement?

Grading: GCSEs may need grade 10, say private schools

The exam regulator’s new qualifications price index (QPI) revealed that the price of GCSEs and A levels has risen by 5.6 per cent since 2018, following a 5.9 per cent increase the previous year.

The rise from 2016 to 2017 was 4.6 per cent, meaning that the price of qualifications has increased steadily year-on-year since 2016.

Ofqual’s report said exam boards have needed to invest considerable funds in reformed qualifications.

At GCSE, the increased amount of external assessment through end-of-course exams – as opposed to internally assessed coursework and controlled assessments – has meant more work for exam boards.

“The [assessment] market is now at the end of a period of reform, which has seen considerable changes to qualifications and necessitated significant investment by exam boards,” Ofqual’s report said.

“The reforms to GCSE subjects increased the amount of external assessment many subjects required, so shifting some of the burden of assessment from the school to the exam board.”

GCSE prices rose by 5.4 per cent this year, and by 5.7 per cent in 2017-18.

The price of AS levels also rose by 10.2 per cent in 2019, following a rise of 9.8 per cent in 2018.

However, the number of candidates taking AS levels – which have been “decoupled” from A levels and no longer count towards students’ final grades in year 13 – fell from over one million certificates in 2015-16 to below 250,000 in 2018-19.

At A level, the average price rose by 5.8 per cent in 2019 after rising by 4.4 per cent the previous year.

The price changes are calculated in representative “baskets” of qualifications, as with the inflation measure, the Consumer Price Index.

Unions have described the increased cost of qualifications as an “additional burden” on schools.

Duncan Baldwin, deputy director of Policy at the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “We are pleased that Ofqual has published this information and we hope that it will focus the minds of the exam boards on keeping down their costs.

“The figures show the cost of GCSEs, AS and A levels increased by 5.6 per cent in 2019 and 5.9 per cent in 2018 which is much more than the rate of inflation.

“It represents yet another additional burden on school and college budgets at a time when their finances are already under strain because of government underfunding. The rising cost of these qualifications appears to be at least partly driven by exam reforms and is therefore another unfortunate consequence of the government’s poorly thought-out overhaul of the exam system.”

This week, the government announced a spending boost of £14 billion on schools, which will see schools get an extra £2.6 billion for 5-16 education in 2020/21.

The DfE has been contacted for comment.


Register to continue reading for free

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you

author bio

Catherine Lough

Catherine Lough is a reporter at Tes.

Find me on Twitter @CathImogenLough

Latest stories