Exam bill soars

24th February 2006 at 00:00
TES study reveals secondaries spending pound;120m more on fees than on books. Michael Shaw reports

Secondary schools in England are spending two and a half times as much on exam fees as they are on books.

Spending by primary and secondary schools on insurance and computer software has also soared since 2003 and now dwarfs spending on books.

The figures, from a TES study analysing how state schools in England spend pound;27 billion from their budgets each year, have alarmed teachers'

unions who say they illustrate the warped emphasis on testing.

A Keele university study shows that nearly half of secondary pupils have to share books.

John Bangs, head of education for the National Union of Teachers, said the high spending on exam fees was a "chilling epitaph to the Tomlinson inquiry", which recommended a reduction in tests for 14 to 19-year-olds, but was rejected by the Government.

Sir Mike Tomlinson told The TES: "Exams have reached a level - both in terms of number and overall expenditure - where we have to ask some serious questions." But he said the amount spent on books might not be cause for alarm because pupils now had more reading material available to them over the internet than they did in school libraries.

The Department for Education and Skills' figures show that secondary schools spent pound;197 million on exam fees in 20045 - more than a quarter above what they did two years previously. In the same period, spending by primary and secondary schools on insurance also rose by a quarter to pound;293m.

The sharpest increase was on "ICT learning resources" - software and equipment for lessons and not computers fitted as part of new buildings. It increased by more than 50 per cent to pound;426.3m.

A survey by the Educational Publishers Council indicates that English primary schools spent pound;70m on books while secondaries spent pound;80m.

Graham Taylor, director of educational publishing for the Publishers'

Association, said it had long been a concern that schools spent more on testing than giving pupils the reading material to help them pass.

John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said the increased spending on exam fees was a result of schools entering more pupils for AS exams and GNVQs. "Exam fees are now one of the biggest expenditures for secondary schools after staffing because of our over-bloated national testing system," he said.

A report by the National Assessment Agency last year estimated the cost of England's examination system, including staffing, was pound;610m. A single A-level entry can cost pound;70, and one for a GNVQ (which is equivalent to four GCSEs) around pound;100.

Although expenditure on exam fees has risen, it remains only 0.7 per cent of school spending in England. The majority, nearly pound;22bn or 80 per cent, goes on staff salaries: pound;16bn on teachers, pound;3bn on teaching assistants and pound;3bn on administrators.

Companies to benefit from the increasing expenditure on IT include RM, the software suppliers, which last year had a turnover of pound;263m. Its turnover is nearly four times as much as that of the biggest supply teacher agency, Select Education. The only company which may receive more from school budgets is caterers Compass, owners of Scolarest.

The DfES said it did not want to prescribe how schools spent their budgets and that no government had done more to promote literacy in schools.

* michael.shaw@tes.co.uk

News 16-17

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