Page last updated at 16:21 GMT, Friday, 4 April 2008 17:21 UK

Rising exam bill 'is inefficient'

exam room
The complexity of the system has been increasing, report says

Head teachers have criticised the "desperately bad use of public money" on rising exam costs.

The bill to schools and colleges in England, Wales and Northern Ireland is put at 700m a year.

A report for the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority said 400m went to exam boards while 300m was spent on exam invigilators and administrators.

Another shows a fall in A-level costs as they change from six units to four, but big variations between boards.

John Dunford of the Association of School and College Leaders said the whole system needed "severe pruning".


The QCA report, compiled by Europe Economics, said: "Over time the system almost certainly has engendered inefficiency and in our view is likely to go on doing so.

"Unless action is taken, the burden on taxpayers will increase."

The report added: "Schools and college representatives were vocal in their criticisms of the rate at which exam fee expenditure had risen in the last few years."

Dr Dunford said: "This is a desperately bad use of public money.

"It has become the second biggest item after staffing in most secondary school and college budgets.

"This bloated external examination system is in need of severe pruning."

He repeated his association's call for more assessment to be done by teachers - suggesting the number of exams might be halved.

'Upward trends'

The QCA has also published its annual report on the qualifications market, amid ministerial concern at what has been called the "alphabet soup" of qualifications.

It says there was a growth between 2002 and 2006 in the numbers of qualifications on offer across exam boards or awarding bodies as they are known.

"VRQs and NVQs have increased and new developments in general qualifications and Diploma-related courses have also made a significant impact on overall numbers.

"Numbers of achievements gained, the number of recognised awarding bodies and popularity of courses all show upward trends."

The one area of contraction has been due to the changes to A-levels, which among other things reduce the number of elements students have to tackle.

A report by the QCA on these changes - published jointly with the Welsh regulator DCELLS - shows A-level fees falling.

"The level of this saving varies by awarding body and by subject, with some subjects not seeing a saving."

It adds: "The analysis does highlight some differences in the fees charged by different awarding bodies for the same subjects.

'Better informed'

For example, AQA has a flat rate of 67 for all it's A-levels. But biology, for example, with the Edexcel board costs 97 and design and technology is 148.

But the report adds: "On average, centres can expect to see a reduction in expenditure on A-levels."

It says colleges and schools have competitive choices based on specification, services and fees.

QCA chief executive Ken Boston said: "Choices by centres of which qualification to use are rightly based on a wide range of factors, not just the price.

"But our report on A-level fees will allow them to make better informed judgments."

However another report, this time by accountants PKF in December 2006, has suggested that the introduction of Diplomas from this autumn could see costs rise.

They would involve "a large amount of capital investment" by exam boards, who would pass the costs on the schools.

The report said: "Not only is the cost of investment in the Diplomas uncertain, but there is also uncertainty about what the level of demand will be.

"If there is low demand for the Diplomas the awarding bodies risk not recovering their initial cost of investment."

Also, reductions in the amount of coursework in GCSE exams would push up the cost of those courses, it said.

Diplomas begin replacing A-levels
31 Mar 08 |  Education
Exams cost too much, say colleges
19 Apr 07 |  Education
Fees for A-levels may be capped
13 Apr 07 |  Education
School exam costs 'getting worse'
09 Mar 07 |  Education
610m exam bill 'tragic waste'
14 Feb 05 |  Education

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