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Counting the cost of assessment this year: colleges write to awarding bodies to consider exam fees rebate

David Hughes, AoC

Changes to assessment this year may have cost colleges in England an additional £50 million overall according to the Association of Colleges (@AoC_info)


After consulting with members, AoC found that this year’s grading process has cost colleges around £50 per 16-18 year old student and £20 per adult student on average. This adds up to around £200,000 for a typical college and over £50million for the college sector as a whole.

The additional costs reflect the extra staff time spent on setting, administering and marking additional assessments, over and above what would have been done in a normal year. In some cases, more invigilators had to be recruited as a result of social distancing requirements.

Colleges have also had the considerable extra work of cross-college moderation and verification, inputting the final grades and will be putting more resource into student support and appeals once the results are published. Colleges often have to work to the different requirements of several different Awarding Bodies, making things even more complex.

Examples of additional tasks included: training, planning, communicating the changes to parents and students, running additional practical assessment sessions including in holiday periods to complete courses, additional reviews with students, exam administration, administrative support, support for work submission, downloading assessed work, additional pastoral support, additional marking, moderation, assembling of evidence and internal quality checks.

At the same time some of the costs for awarding organisations will have reduced, whilst other costs may have risen. Last year many awarding bodies provided rebates on their fees and this week AoC has written to the larger awarding organisations asking them to be clear and open about the rebates they will offer, wherever they have made a net overall saving.

David Hughes, Association of Colleges, Chief Executive, said:

“College and awarding organisation staff have worked diligently and tirelessly to ensure that students have fair grades this year. It is clear though that a large part of the burden in achieving that has been with colleges with an overall cost of over £50million extra this year. Even in a normal year, our assessment system is expensive, but this year’s changes have taken a heavy toll on colleges and their staff as our survey shows. That’s why I have written to exam board asking them to be transparent and commit to rebating fees wherever they have made a net overall saving.”

Sample feedback from colleges:

“The TAG system meant that for A levels and GCSE English and maths the college had to run its own exam-style assessments with all the associated work and materials required…There is also an emotional cost of many staff working through holidays to prepare assessment in line with regulatory requirements.”

“The additional workload and stress on staff has been considerable. Many have had to work longer hours or through half term to meet the deadlines and requirements. There has also been considerable additional workload for data administrators and managers.”

“There are many more hidden costs not accounted for as well as the hidden cost of the stress to teachers, students and parents with the whole process.”

tom bewick100x100Tom Bewick, Chief Executive of the Federation of Awarding Bodies responds:

“Dealing with the pandemic has placed additional costs on the whole skills and exams system, including on awarding organisations who have had to respond to support centres and learners in unprecedented circumstances. The government has not always recognised the additional costs it has asked the system to take on.

“However, FAB’s members will always engage positively with their customers, including colleges, when it comes to ensuring contractual relationships are fair and represent good value. It is always for our members to engage individually in those discussions.” 

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