The Qualifications Racket

One of the first vocabulary words I had to learn when I moved to this county was “qualifications”. They are a British obsession. If you were going for a job in the States and someone asked you about your qualifications, you would describe your work history

This is a country obsessed with qualifications. They are little pieces of paper that say you have completed some sort of course. Some of the most important qualifications are General Certificates of Secondary Education (GCSEs).

In the UK there is no such thing as a high school diploma. Instead, you receive a certificate for each subject you take. You don’t have a Grade Point Average. You get a string of grades, e.g., 5 A*’s (called “A stars”), 2 A’s, a B and a C, (if you are brainy), or a D, three E’s, two F’s, and a G (if you’re not or can’t be bothered). A*-C grades are considered good GCSEs. D-G grade aren’t. To actually fail, you have to get a “U”. In my subject, that would mean getting below 14%. In some subjects 16% will get you a C.

All of the exams are administered by national exam boards that have contracts with the Government. After all, schools can’t be trusted with so great a responsibility as examining their own students. Government always knows best.

Each department in each school chooses which exam board it will use and which syllabus within the options offered by the board. The thing about externally administered and marked exams is that they cost money. They cost so much money that more is being spent on exam fees than on textbooks and resources.

Let me put this in real terms. I misquoted a syllabus code to the exams officers at my school and she sent in the wrong number. Until she convinced them that it was because neither I or the school had ever done that exam before, so therefore they should waive the fee for the wrong entries, it was going to cost the equivalent of two years of my entire departmental budget.

No money had been spent by the exam board – no extra exam papers printed or anything. That was just the cost to go into the computer and change a 9 to a 0 in a course number for less than 100 exams.  Not that each entry would have to be changed manually – that could have taken as long as three minutes of a data processor’s time. It could have been done with a couple of key strokes.

This is because cost of the 100 exams is already the equivalent of two years of my departmental budget. In other words, we would have had to have paid double. No doubt some schools had to do just that. There’s no point in the exam board having the policy if they don’t plan on making some money from it.

As reported today in the Daily Telegraph, “One head teacher said that his exam costs had risen from £30,000 to £100,000 over five years for the same number of pupils.” So how much are these exam boards making each year? About £700 million in tax money. It’s a nice racket.

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2 Responses to “The Qualifications Racket”

  1. Elizabeth Says:

    How on earth can the exam boards get away with this type of excessive charging ?
    Particularly after the Edexcel fiasco a few years ago …..rolls eyes.

  2. sol Says:

    I don’t know, but the double charges were with OCR and they are theoretically non-profit. I was told it wa a good thing it wasn’t Edexcel. That’s not surprising, given that they are owned by Pearson PLC and simply looking to maximise profits. I can’t find out about the ownership of AQA.


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