Greedy exam boards favour rich private schools and disadvantage state schools with little money

Francis Gilbert's picture
Channel 4 ran an interesting item last night, which I appeared in, about the ways in which the different exam boards have increasingly been grabbing taxpayer's cash, thereby favouring schools with big pockets and seriously disadvantaging cash-starved state schools. Exam fees went up 8.5% last year, and over the last decade have gone up 113%, with schools in England paying £328m to them. The top people at the exam boards pay themselves vastly more than our Prime Minister. While only Edexcel is the only commercially run organisation, the rest are supposed to be charities, claiming 'tax-free' status. Like their charitable counter-parts, the private schools, the only people they seem to be serving are the rich. Despite the increased cost to schools, there has been a number of high profile incidents where exam boards have made errors in marking, giving pupils the wrong grade. But state schools feel powerless when mistakes are made, I told Channel 4 News. I said wrong results, even if eventually corrected, are hugely demoralising for staff and students. And at £30 to £40 for each script remark, it is a huge gamble with hard pressed funds. "If you're a wealthy school like Eton or Harrow, you can send a whole batch back for remarking and it's a drop in the ocean."  The truth is though that marks are rarely changed -- there's no real accountability for rogue markers -- and in reality, state schools don't ask for them to be corrected because they don't have the cash. It's yet another example that illustrates how free markets in education serve the bosses and not the pupils.


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Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 04/07/2012 - 07:28

The CEO of OCR earns £170,000 pa, and the CEO of AQA earns £182,000 pa. The pay for a CEO of similarly large charities is around £125,000. The CEO interviewed said that he ran a large, complex organisation and his pay was determined by others who had to decide whether he was worth this level of remuneration.

There's no doubt that the exam industry is worth millions with pupils taking GCSEs, AS and A levels, NVQs and so on. Under our education system pupils have no option but to take these exams if they want to progress. That's a captive market for the exam boards - their customers can't opt out. Perhaps it's about time that GCSEs were scrapped and pupils graduate at 18 just as they do in most other high-performing countries (see FAQs above). The exam boards would argue against it but they exist to serve pupils not profit from them.

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