Head teachers demand exam boards hand back £220m fees to schools because teachers are doing most of the work grading pupils this summer

  • 2,000 head teachers across the UK are demanding a return of exam board fees 
  • The request for a rebate follows summer exams being scrapped for 2021
  • School leaders say money would be invested in post-pandemic student support
  • Most schools are setting tests for grades after GCSEs and A levels were axed, but teachers complain they are having to mark these papers for no extra cash 

Head teachers have urged GCSE and A level exam boards to return more than £200 million in fees as teachers look set to tackle the bulk of grading pupils this summer.

A collective of 2,000 head teachers across the country have called for a refund of at least half the fees exam boards usually charge for summer examinations.

School leaders say the refunds – which could total up to £220 million – would help balance the books at schools across the country and could be reinvested in post-pandemic student support.

The WorthLess? campaign group – which represents 2,000 head teachers in 80 local authorities – told the Guardian: ‘Schools should gain at least a 50 per cent rebate on their normal exam costs’.

Head teachers from the Worthless? campaign are demanding exam boards hand back £220m in fees to schools as teachers face a summer of marking (File picture)

The group continued: ‘Crucially, any extra money left over should be diverted towards supporting the many students who have suffered so badly as a result of the pandemic.’

‘Schools have to be pragmatic and ensure that exam boards cover their costs in a reasonable and fair way. 

‘Equally, teachers, school leaders and examination support staff have picked up an abundance of extra work as we prepare to deliver teacher-assessed grading for years 11 and 13, and manage both results and appeals.’

By GEOFF BARTON, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders

Schools and colleges have borne the brunt of the government’s decision to cancel public exams. They are expected to assess all exam year students in all subjects in an extremely short timeframe. 

It is a situation which would have been a lot less fraught if the government had listened to our repeated warnings last year that it needed to have a Plan B in place and ready to go in the event of exams having to be cancelled.

But it did not listen and this has meant that schools and colleges only received detailed guidance at the end of last term about the process they must follow and that they only have until 18 June to assess their students and submit grades to the exam boards.

This has created a great deal of additional workload for leaders and teachers on top of the work they must also do in managing Covid safety measures and supporting education recovery. 

Not only is there no additional payment for this work but the government has in fact signalled that it intends to freeze the pay of teachers, alongside many other hard-working public sector workers. It is a kick in the teeth.

The exam boards will incur some expenses this year for tasks such as creating assessment materials and running a quality assurance process, but the costs are likely to be much less than in a normal year and we would expect schools and colleges to receive significant rebates on the fees they’ve paid.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson cancelled A level and GCSE exams at the turn of 2021, meaning schoolchildren’s exam results will be determined by teacher-assessed predicted grades for the second summer in a row.

Teachers have been asked to use a combination of mock exams and coursework to award students their predicted grades and although some exam boards will offer optional assessments, these will be optional.   

Costs to enter exams vary, with the average GCSE in 2020 costing £42.02 and the average A level was £101.44, according to the National Education Union. 

Fees can quickly mount up, with a large group of Year 11s sitting 10 GCSEs each likely to cost a school between £75,000 and £100,000. 

Following the disruption to examinations in 2020, the three largest exam boards in the country, Pearson, AQA and OCR, refunded approximately a quarter of exam fees. 

A statement on AQA’s website said: ‘We passed savings of £42 million back to schools and colleges by refunding 26 per cent of entry fees for summer 2020. 

‘As an independent charity, any income we make gets invested back into qualifications and assessment. 

‘This enables us to offer a broad range of qualifications and to protect the integrity and security of our assessments. 

‘It also funds other educational services, such as assessment research that benefits teachers and students.

‘As well as paying for our assessment services, exam fees enable us to invest in the quality of our examining teams, and to offer a comprehensive support and training package for teachers.’ 

But the return of teacher-assessed grades has left some ‘exhausted’ educators ‘in tears’ and ‘on their knees’. 

Last month, children’s author Michael Rosen prompted a storm of backlash for the Prime Minister after tweeting: ‘Dear Boris Johnson, You said that GCSE exams for this year were cancelled. They’re not cancelled.

‘They’re called ‘assessments’. And instead of examiners marking them, teachers are. For no money. But the schools have paid the exam boards. Where’s the money?’ 

The assessments are not officially exams, but are intended for students to show what they know, helping teachers to give them grades that reflect performance. 

Thousands of teachers chimed in to share their experiences of dealing with stress and additional hours.

This tweet from author Michael Rosen (shown) prompted a huge response from teachers, who revealed the additional stress they were facing this year

Steve Brain, a chemistry teacher in Durham, said: ‘Currently sleeping poorly due to stress. 

‘We have our assessment schedule starting next week and have put assessments together that minimise the effects of lockdown, but that give us little to assess on.

‘I felt this was fairer on the students.’ 

A chemistry teacher in Norfolk added: ‘Cried for an hour today due to the stress of all of this. So sick of the public hatred of teachers. Feel free to do this if it’s so easy.’  



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