Private schools tell SQA ‘give us back our money’

Scottish independent schools are calling for exam charges to be reduced, after the cancellation of this year's exams

Emma Seith

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Scottish independent schools are questioning why Scotland’s qualifications body did not reduce charges after this year's exams were cancelled.

They highlight that, under the alternative arrangements that were established, teachers took on “a large part” of the work required to determine students' grades.

The Scottish Council of Independent Schools' call for Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) exam charges to be reduced follows similar demands in England, where headteachers have pointed out that exam boards’ expenses will be “nowhere near” the normal rate, given that they will not be required to mark or moderate papers.


Background: Exams cancelled in Scotland

Related: Teachers' estimates ‘core element of the certification process’

Coronavirus: ‘Cancel next year’s exams,’ says teaching union

England: 'Refund our exam fees,' say heads


However, it has also been pointed out in England that any refunds will likely be "marginal", given that significant sums are spent on producing and printing papers, and moderation of teacher estimates will still be taking place.

Coronavirus: Should schools get money back for cancelled exams?

In a submission to the Scottish Parliament’s Education and Skills Committee, SCIS said: “Independent schools have questioned why SQA examination charges were not reduced, even modestly (as elsewhere), when the diet was cancelled. Schools and families for whom the cost is a considerable burden expected recognition that a large part of the summer 2020 work would be undertaken by teachers in schools rather than the SQA.”

SCIS is also calling for “a clear statement on the 2021 diet” before the end of this school year – something that Scotland’s largest teaching union, the EIS, has also asked for.

SCIS suggested that one option – to take into account learning lost during school closures – might be “widening question choice” in the 2021 exams. Another option, it said, could be delaying the diet next year until June 2021. The exams in Scotland usually start in late April and this year they would have run until 4 June.

The Scottish government has yet to make it clear if its intention is that students will sit exams next year.

Scotland’s largest teaching union, the EIS, and the Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association have both called for the exams to be cancelled.

Last week, EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan, during an Education and Skills Committee meeting, said: “If a course takes 120 hours to teach – that is, 160 hours minus 40 hours of consolidation – and you know that pupils are not going to get that amount of teaching, is it fair to present them with an exam that is based on 120 hours of learning?”

The vast majority of the SQA's income comes from entry charges for qualifications.

The SQA annual report and accounts for 2018-19, published last year, stated that of the £50.2 million earned by the SQA, entry charges accounted for £42.1 million.

However, the report also pointed out that, when it came to local authority schools at least, charges did not cover the cost of delivery.

Responding to the call for a refund an SQA spokesperson made this point saying national qualifications were not self-financing and were supported by funding from the Scottish government.  

The spokesperson added: “The alternative arrangements include a free appeals service for schools and colleges to request a review of the grade awarded for a learner or a group of learners, after 4 August.  In addition, to support schools and colleges through this challenging time, we have not charged late fees for any changes made to entry levels or withdrawal of entries for National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher courses, after 31 March. 

"Any net reduction in funding required by SQA resulting from the cancellation of the 2020 exam diet will be returned to the Scottish government. This will support broader economic actions being taken including those specific measures with regard to Independent Schools."

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Emma Seith

Emma Seith

Emma Seith is a reporter for Tes Scotland

Find me on Twitter @Emma_Seith

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