Schools insist it is unfair they still have to pay for assessments replacing this year’s cancelled exams when they are running and marking them themselves.
Some headteachers have called on exam board the WJEC to give a “near total refund” to reflect the extra work schools are doing.
As well as running and marking assessments to decide pupils’ grades they are having to do a large amount of administration paper work, school leaders said.
Maintained schools in Wales, which all run WJEC exams, collectively pay the exam board millions of pounds for the service each year.
Schools pay the WJEC approximately £1,000 per pupil on exam fees for GCSEs alone.
One headteacher said his school’s £100,000 annual bill for GCSEs is the equivalent of several full time salaries.
When last year’s A level, AS and GCSE exams were cancelled they got a 23% reduction, but this year’s bill has still not been decided, the WJEC confirmed.
Asked whether schools would get a reduction again, and, if so, how much, a WJEC spokesman said: “Conversations are ongoing to establish this year’s fees, and we will provide schools and colleges with further information shortly.
“Fees for Summer 2020 were reduced by 23% to reflect the extraordinary approach to awarding following the cancellation of external assessments.”
Headteachers said the WJEC has been too slow to decide on fees at an already uncertain and busy time for schools.
Neil Foley, headteacher of Prestatyn High, suggested an 80% reduction at least on the usual bill.
“There should be a near total refund from WJEC,” he said.
“Last year we received just over 20% back. This year we should get at least 80% back.
“Its not just the running the exams, it’s the marking, the moderation, the delivery of the paper and postage back. None of this has happened, schools have taken on all areas of being an exam board and awarding body.
“I do appreciate that WJEC do have certain overheads and that is why I would call for the split this year to be the opposite of last year.”
Another headteacher said: “Last year the WJEC took 80% of their regular fee due to Covid-19.
“They have done nothing in this time. No new exam has been produced.
“Exams were cancelled this year and re-labelled as assessments to help determine pupil grades. “Teachers in schools have been responsible for putting these assessments together, are responsible for marking them and moderating them.
“An examiner can expect to be paid £2.80 a script and will mark up to 400 scripts typically, this is no small amount of remuneration.”
David Blackwell, headteacher of Mary Immaculate RC High in Barry said the amount of work for schools to produce assessed exam results was vast and must be reflected in this year’s bill.
“I would hope that the exam board recognises that school staff are fulfilling the roles of examiners and that their exam fees fairly reflect the significant amount of work that has been passed to schools from the exam board.
“The expectations on staff, due to the size of the task, is simply enormous. They are teaching the full timetable of classes in all year groups whilst setting and marking work that is usually done by external examiners.
“Staff are being asked to at as teachers, examiners, and moderators all in the same number of hours as they would normally have for just teaching the pupils in readiness for their exams.”
The WJEC insisted it still has work to do in the process to award exam grades this year.
A spokesman said: “The WJEC continues to play a pivotal role in the development and delivery of grading approaches for Summer 2021, responding at pace to both policy and regulatory requirements.
“This year, we have also developed a new and extensive package of support to help schools and colleges assess their learners with confidence, including comprehensive training opportunities, assessment materials, exemplars, and detailed professional guidance.
“Our fees not only cover the costs associated with running and delivering summer exams, but also a cycle of continuous support. As a charity, we are committed to re-investing in continuously improving the support, resources and qualifications we provide to schools, colleges, and learners.”
He confirmed the board does not have to pay the usual fees to examiners it contracts when exams run normally.
“The cancellation of the summer examinations and the alternative arrangements for assessment and grading this year has vastly reduced the work that our examiner community would usually undertake, the most significant being an absence of examination script marking since learners are not sitting external examinations this summer.
“Our examiners are independent contractors, and, in a year where examinations would normally take place, are contracted to undertake specific work related to an examination series, such as marking scripts or moderating non-examination assessment.
“The basis for payment for this type of work is on volume of work completed. As there are no external assessments this year, the work we would normally engage our examiners to undertake is not there.
“The specific arrangements for assessments in 2021 means that there is different work available for a smaller number of our examiners should they wish to undertake it.
“This relates largely to the external quality assurance processes we have put in place to support centres in making their grade determinations this year.
“There has also been some work for our senior examining teams in producing guidance and support materials to assist centres in grading their learners this summer.”
Why exams were cancelled and what replaces them
Traditional GCSE and A-level exams have been cancelled for a second year thanks to the Covid pandemic.
Plans for external and internal assessments to replace them were ditched when schools shut again in January. Under a third system teachers will now assess learners for their grades.
The process, arrived at by the Welsh Government appointed Design and Delivery Group is being implemented by the WJEC and regulator Qualifications Wales.
Schools were asked to draw up policies on how they will assess pupils for exam grades based on a mixture of sat written assessments and assessment of past work and results.