Schools forced to cut spending on books to cover exam costs

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The Independent Online

Schools are being forced to reduce spending on books and equipment to pay for the rocketing costs of entering pupils for exams, head teachers said yesterday.

State schools and sixth-form colleges are paying £380m a year in exam costs, a report by the Secondary Heads Association said. In a typical 1,500-pupil comprehensive, fees for GCSE, AS and A-level entries total £100,000 a year, with administration and invigilation costs adding an extra £32,500 to the bill. The costs had doubled during the past four years, the heads said.

Tim Andrew, president of the association and head of Chesham High School in Buckinghamshire, said: "The testing and examinations regime in schools is out of control."

Sue Kirkham, head teacher of Walton High School in Staffordshire and vice-president of association, said her school's budget for books and capitation had remained "absolutely the same" for the past three years. "We've hardly been able to keep pace with inflation and that's been to pay for examination costs," she said.

The association is urging the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority - the Government's exams watchdog - to consider a shake-up to the exam-marking system. Under the plan, senior teachers in every school would be trained as "chartered examiners" and then be allowed to mark their pupils' exam work.

John Dunford, general secretary of SHA, said the suggested system would help cut down on plagiarism and parents helping to write their offspring's coursework. Teachers would be better able to detect whether pupils were getting outside help.

He added that there would be checks to make sure marking standards were maintained. "If all their pupils started getting As for school work, and Us for their external end-of-term exam - for instance - they would lose their chartered examiner status," he said.

Dr Ken Boston, chief executive of the QCA, has indicated he supports the idea. He said teachers in other countries were trusted to mark their own pupils' exam work.

Mike Tomlinson, the former chief inspector of schools who is heading a government inquiry into 14 to 19 education, is expected to support the idea in his final report next month.

* Every sixth-former should have the chance to sit a US-style university entrance test under any shake-up of A-levels, the head of a government inquiry into admissions said. Professor Steven Schwartz, vice-chancellor of Brunel University, called for an aptitude test to be a compulsory part of the sixth-form curriculum.