GCSE and A-level exam fees rise by up to 17% halfway through a term ‘ridicules’ financial planning, school and college leaders claim.
Edexcel, operated by Pearson, and OCR have increased fees for all 2023 exams by a flat rate of 6%. England’s largest review board, the AQA, has raised its prices by 5-17%, although it still has the lowest prices overall.
The councils, which will earn several million more from colleges after the hikes, say they have to cover higher costs. But executives say the increases are disappointing as schools and colleges grapple with soaring energy and staffing costs.
Chichester College Group, which has nine colleges and training providers, expects the hikes to cost an extra £300,000 this year on top of its ‘already sky-high’ group-wide costs of more than 3 £.3 million.
“Rising exam costs are another pressure on colleges across the country,” said chief executive Andrew Green.
“This increase comes at a time when colleges are facing skyrocketing energy bills, runaway inflation and severe underfunding. Colleges have faced more than a decade of savage cuts and rising costs, made worse by the pandemic.
“This money could have been used to help our staff by contributing to extra pay or funding the recruitment of more learning support assistants to provide support to our students.”
Luminate Education Group, which has seven colleges and training providers, expects the hikes to cost an additional £200,000 this year.
less than inflation
Gemma Simmons-Blench, Deputy General Manager of Program and Quality, said FE week this increase will have a “ripple effect, because our budgets are established well in advance”.
“At a time when the EF sector is facing increasing financial pressure and the government is not clarifying its position on funding arrangements, rising prices mean we will need to take a closer look at our budgets to ensure that [financial] the goals are achieved,” she said.
“Rewarding organizations have said the increase is less than inflation. While this may be the case, the increase far exceeds the increase in funding, and we urge review boards to reconsider their position on this.
E-ACT, which has 13 secondary schools, expects the hikes to cost an additional £180,000. Tom Campbell, its acting chief executive, said another “unfunded cost increase” was making it “increasingly difficult to do anything resembling thoughtful financial planning”.
“This risks causing confusion among accountants and boards, making it impossible to deliver the budgets agreed with the Education and Skills Funding Agency at the start of the year.
“In-year cost changes like these make a mockery of funding agreements and the annual budgeting cycle.”
An NCG spokesperson confirmed with FE week that even a 5% increase in fees would increase their costs by around £200,000 a year.
“This is at a time when colleges across the country, and the hard-working staff within them, are facing tremendous funding pressures. However, we have a very positive relationship with all of our award organizations and are keen to work closely with them to better understand and highlight the impact any changes can have on the colleges in our group.
Science continues to progress
Frustration over fees grew last year after FE weeksister publication of School week revealed that councils were raising prices, despite canceled exams and grades set by teachers.
The AQA has increased prices for A-level artwork by 17% from £89.65 to £105.10. Other subjects increased by 5 to 12%. The nonprofit said increases for most of its qualifications were “well below inflation”, currently at 9.9%.
The above inflation increases were to ‘better reflect the market and the true costs of delivering these qualifications’.
A-level Biology, Chemistry and Physics fees rose by 10%, while GCSE Geography and Art rose by 12%. A maths GCSE now costs £41.20, down from £39.15 previously.
AQA could earn a further £4.9million if entry rates remain the same as this summer. Tracey Newman, Board Customer and Sales Director, said: “As an independent charity, we do not charge more than necessary for our qualifications and services, and we have maintained the increases in entry fees well below the rate of inflation for most of our qualifications.
Sufficient warning needed
Ofqual’s terms say boards should publish fees ‘sufficiently in advance’ of exams to ‘meet the reasonable scheduling requirements’ of schools and colleges.
All three councils have released fees over the past two months – OCR and Edexcel in September and AQA last Friday – but schools and colleges have set budgets months in advance.
A maths GCSE with Edexcel now costs £46.80, up from £44 last year.
A spokesperson said he recognized schools’ budgets were “stretched” and “we will always strive to keep fee increases to a minimum while providing the best possible value for money”.
Similarly, OCR, a not-for-profit owned by Cambridge University Press & Assessment, is increasing its fees by 6%. A maths GCSE now costs £47, down from £44.25 previously.
An OCR spokesperson said it aimed to keep fee increases “as low as possible”.