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A-level fees cut but schools demand more

New charges fail to reflect examiners' reduced workload.Schools and colleges will not notice much reduction in the cost of exams when the number of A-level modules is cut by a third, from six to four, next academic year.

This is despite calls for the bill to be cut substantially as the amount of work required of exam boards decreases.

The price of an AS exam with the OCR board will fall in 2008-9, but only by 10 per cent - from pound;37.35 to pound;33.60 - although the number of units is being cut from three to two.

In 2009-10, the cost of an A-level will be pound;69.20 for four modules, compared with pound;74.70 for next summer's six-unit version.

OCR is the only board to have published its prices for 2008-9 so far, despite the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority having said in February that all awarding bodies should make them available by September. The AQA board will cut A-level prices by 13 per cent.

John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said a cut of 10 per cent was "unacceptably low".

He said: "I'm going to write to the boards because I'm looking for a 20-25 per cent drop in the price of A-levels. Because the number of modules is going down from six to four, there's going to be considerably less work for the boards.

"With the exams bill having gone up considerably faster than both inflation and school and college budgets in recent years, this is a good opportunity to cut back on that."

Last year Isabel Nisbet, head of regulation at the QCA, told The TES that boards should take advantage of the impending cuts in the number of A-level modules to reduce their prices.

But there is better news for schools and colleges on GCSE and other fees. Prices of most of these exams are rising by 2 to 4 per cent this year, a TES analysis shows - broadly in line with inflation. Those for this academic year's A-levels are rising by 3 to 4 per cent for all three English boards.

A 2004 report by consultants PriceWaterhouseCoopers suggested schools and colleges were spending more than pound;610 million a year on exams.

Last year, the QCA ordered an investigation into the cost of entries after prices soared by up to 72 per cent in three years. It also considered capping prices.

The exam boards appear to have responded by reducing the rate of increase in their charges. Last month, a conference was told that the investigation, by accountancy firm PKF, concluded that exam fees are reasonable.

An OCR spokeswoman said: "Many of the costs associated with A Levels have not been affected by the reduction in the number of units. However, OCR, which is a not for profit body, is pleased that we have been able to pass on to schools and colleges every single penny of the savings that have resulted from those changes."

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