Head teachers criticised the “over-inflated” exams system today after it emerged that schools were forced to spend almost £330m on GCSEs and A-levels last year.
Figures show that the amount of taxpayers’ money spent on tests increased by 8.5 per cent in the last 12 months, despite a drop in the overall number of qualifications awarded.
In total, exam fees have more than doubled in the last eight yeas and now account for the second largest share of school running costs.
The disclosure will prompt fresh concerns over the cost of qualifications offered by Britain’s biggest exam boards.
According to Ofqual, the exams regulator, all major exam boards recorded increased turnover in the last financial year.
The Association of School and College Leaders warned that fees had soared because of repeated political meddling in the exams system, including the introduction of bite-sized modules in GCSEs and A-levels and pressure to hit targets – resulting in more pupils re-sitting tests.
Brian Lightman, the union’s general secretary, said: “It is further evidence that the exams system is over-inflated.
“This represents a massive amount of public money and you have ask whether it’s the best use of resources when so many other parts of the education system are being squeezed. It’s money that would have been far better spent on teachers.”
Malcolm Trobe, ASCL policy director, added: “The general feeling in schools is that exam fees are too high. The exam boards are being more cost-effective – for example, by doing more marking online – but that’s not reflected in the fees that schools have to pay.”
Ofqual found that £328.3m had been spent by English state schools on exams in 2010/11. This was up from £302.6m a year earlier and just £154m in 2002/3.
The study revealed that exam fees made up 8.6 per cent of schools’ total running costs last year, compared with 7.8 per cent 12 months’ earlier and just six per cent eight years ago. It was the second biggest strain on running costs after “learning resources”, such as text books, said Ofqual.
The rise comes despite a drop in the number of qualifications awarded last year, it emerged.
Ofqual said the price rise was probably driven by "an increase in the level of the fees charged" by examiners combined with a shift in demand towards more expensive qualifications.
It follows criticism over training seminars staged by senior examiners – normally costing between £100 and £200 per teacher – to help schools boost pupils’ GCSE and A-level results.
Today's report covers expenditure on GCSEs and A-levels alongside other qualifications – principally vocational courses.
Fewer GCSEs were awarded but rising numbers of vocational qualifications were sat, it was revealed. Numbers increased to almost 8m from just 2.2m in 2002/03.
The report shows that almost 160,000 students took a Level 1 award in music performance last year, while a similar number took a Level 2 award in food safety in catering - which is equivalent to a GCSE.
It means more people took these courses than traditional GCSEs in chemistry, German, biology, physics or Spanish, although most entrants would have been adults.