Exam costs deprive pupils

30th May 2008 at 01:00
Heads say soaring expense of the testing season means children are doing without the basics

Heads say soaring expense of the testing season means children are doing without the basics

Pupils are going without textbooks and other basic learning aids in Wales because of soaring exam costs, it was claimed this week.

With the exam season in full swing, heads have revealed the real victims of never-ending, externally driven tests on their schools - stressed children who have to make do with inadequate resources.

The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) estimated the average cost to a 1,500-pupil secondary school with a sixth form in South Wales in 2006 to be more than pound;100,000, with an extra pound;17,000 for administration, and pound;13,000 for staff cover.

The total cost - around pound;130,000 - represents a 116 per cent increase since 2001 in Wales. And with costs growing quicker than capitation, schools are starting to feel the pinch.

The figures have been made available as a major report from Westminster blasts the UK "teaching to the test" regime, claiming national tests assess only a small sample of pupils' achievement.

It said that although Wales and Scotland are in a slightly better position after the abolition of Sats, the cost of assessment is still huge. MPs are calling for an overhaul of the exam system following the release of the report, Testing and Assessment, by the Commons' children, schools and families committee earlier this month.

Heads contacted by TES Cymru blamed a distrust of teachers to assess pupils, and a culture of wanting to judge school and teacher performance for a system failure.

They said exams should be overhauled in favour of internal teacher-led assessment, with less external marking.

Brian Lightman, president of the ASCL Cymru, said the current system needed to be reformed.

"Teachers need to be trusted to assess their pupils internally and without bias," he said. "There is simply no need for the amount of external assessment we currently have. The postage bill alone is huge.

"Rising costs mean less money to meet the basic needs of pupils."

The ASCL looked at the national testing system in its policy paper, The Future of Assessment. The document claims exams costs are sapping school budgets.

Heads also said school halls or gyms were almost constantly booked out for exams, affecting pupils' quality of learning.

In Wales, the high cost is exacerbated by a perceived lack of funding reaching the chalk face via local authorities, meaning pupils are increasingly more disadvantaged than their English peers.

Mr Lightman, who returns to the helm of St Cyres School in Penarth this September, contributed to the cross-party report on assessment.

He said schools should have a fully trained chartered teacher assessor, and that assessment at 11, 14, GCSE, AS and A-level should increasingly rely on this approach.

A report from the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority in April put exam costs at almost pound;700 million per year in the UK, with pound;400m going to exams and pound;300m on invigilators and administration.

A TES study in February 2006 revealed that secondary schools in England were spending pound;120m more on exam fees than on books.

Leader, page 28.

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