GCSEs 2021: 'Heads misunderstand exam board workload'

Heads calling for £135 million exam fees rebate have been accused by exam board of 'misunderstanding' its workload

exam boards workload

The UK’s largest exam board has accused headteachers of “misunderstanding” the amount of work exam boards are still doing this year - despite exams being being cancelled and teachers being tasked with delivering grades.

Responding to headteachers' calls for an increase in the rebate on exam fees this year to 50 per cent from 25 per cent last year, exam board AQA said "it was “important to remember that entry fees aren’t just for exam papers and marking.” 

It added the board's other work includes collecting grades and "supporting schools through the process" as well as carrying out “a complex and completely new" quality assurance which included developing and delivering training for all staff and examiners.

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An AQA spokesperson said: “We know how hard teachers are working this summer to assess and grade students – but unfortunately the calls for much bigger rebates than last year are based on misunderstandings about the amount of work exam boards are doing too, and the huge cost of that.”

Last year, following the cancellation of exams, the AQA paid a £42 million rebate in exam fees, which it said was 26 per cent of total fees, while exam boards OCR and Eduqas said they each returned 23 per cent of their fees.

However Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, called for a 50 per cent rebate this year in which he said schools were "doing the heavy lifting" following the ditching of the grading algorithm which proved to be "so fundamentally flawed". 

He said: "Given that schools and colleges are shouldering so much of the burden we would expect a significant rebate of at least 50 per cent and possibly a good deal more.”

Jules White, headteacher and coordinator of school funding campaign WorthLess? also called for a rebate of "at least 50 per cent".

He said exam fees at his school alone were around £100,000 per year, and agreed with the Tes estimate that a 50 per cent rebate on GCSE fees would be worth at least £100 million while a 50 per cent rebate on A and AS levels would be more than £34 million.

He said: “We have to be reasonable and ensure that exam boards cover their costs in a reasonable way.  Equally, schools have picked up an abundance of extra work as we prepare to deliver teacher assessed grading for year 11 and 13.”

Meanwhile, the four main exam boards in England (AQA, Pearson OCR and Eduqas) have each told Tes they cannot yet say how much the rebate could be this year.

But Pearson said a 50 per cent rebate would be “unrealistic”.

A spokesperson said: “It’s too early right now to know the exact amount this will be.

“Exam fees don’t just cover exams. This year alone we issued nearly 14,000 questions for teachers to use to assess students, provided comprehensive support and training for grading and ongoing access to customer and support services.

"We will also be supporting quality assurance and running an appeals service.”

A spokesperson for exam regulator Ofqual said exam boards had, in a few months, designed and implemented a new assessment system which "would normally take years". 

The spokesperson added: "Since exams were cancelled at the beginning of the year, exam boards have worked swiftly to design and implement an entirely new assessment system, backed up by detailed quality assurance checks.

“They have also provided comprehensive guidance and assessment materials for teachers to use.

“Although their work this year is not as visible as it is in a year when exams take place, it would be misleading to say that exam boards are not working hard and have not incurred costs."

A spokesperson for OCR said: "To support schools and colleges to submit grades based on teacher assessment, we’re investing substantial resources in IT systems, in delivering assessment materials and guidance, and in running quality assurance checks."

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Dave Speck

Dave Speck is a reporter at Tes

Find me on Twitter @Specktator100

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