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Schools face soaring entry fees

Exam entry fees are to rise by up to 7 per cent this academic year, even though the Government is pumping millions of pounds into keeping costs down for schools and colleges.

New price lists, sent to exams officers by England's three boards, reveal fee increases for 2005 easily outstripping inflation, currently at 3.1 per cent.

The rises are smaller than last year, when A-level costs soared by up to 15 per cent. However, they come despite the Government's investment of more than pound;100 million over two years in the exams system, partly to give examiners pay increases.

Price rises for exams offered by Edexcel, Britain's only commercial board, are the highest, with costs for each A-level entry increasing by 6.8 per cent to pound;70.50. A GCSE through Edexcel will now cost schools pound;22, a 4.8 per cent rise. GNVQs with Edexcel now cost pound;16.50 per unit, up 6.5 per cent on last year.

At AQA, A-level costs are up 6.7 per cent, to pound;67.20, and GCSEs, 4.3 per cent, to pound;21.80. At OCR, both exams rose in price by 5.1 per cent. This took the cost of an A-level through OCR to pound;61.80, or 12 per cent less than Edexcel charges.

Earlier this year, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority said the Pounds 100m investment should reduce the need for exam fee rises.

A survey by the Secondary Heads Association in September said schools and colleges were spending pound;380m a year on exams. A 900-pupil school, without a sixth form, can expect to pay pound;70,000.

The boards argue that the increases are needed to cover the Curriculum 2000 reforms, which modularised A-levels from 2001 and led to increased exams bureaucracy. They also say they need to invest in new technology.

AQA, Britain's largest exam board, whose charges rose the most last year, revealed a pound;5m loss earlier this year.

The new figures will add weight to calls in last month's Tomlinson report on the future of secondary qualifications for a big reduction in the number of exams pupils sit.

However, ministers are unlikely to go along with the radical reductions the report proposes.

Edexcel said in a statement: "Exam boards have to provide greater diversity and complexity at ever-higher levels of accuracy and speed. To achieve this we are making a whole range of improvements, including information technology, processing, marking and communications. This costs money. We remain committed to delivering value for money."

John Dunford, SHA general secretary, said: "This is yet another nail in the coffin of the bloated external examination system. The amount being spent on exam fees represents a very poor use of public money. Everyone would benefit if the exams system were leaner and meaner."

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