ASCL Cymru survey shows Welsh schools want significant reduction in exam fees


More than three-quarters of school and college leaders believe the Welsh examining board should receive minimal fees this summer for the reduced workload it has taken on as a result of the cancellation of public exams, a survey by ASCL Cymru has found.


Almost 79% ​suggest that they should pay WJEC 25% or less of the normal exam fees paid for GCSEs, A-levels and other qualifications, citing that the burden of assessing and awarding grades to students will fall this summer almost entirely on schools and colleges, with some leaders questioning why they should have to pay any fee at all.

The Welsh government, Qualifications Wales and WJEC have handed the responsibility of assessing students in lieu of public exams to schools and colleges. They have asked them to use evidence which can include assessments based on questions and past papers provided by exam boards, non-exam assessment, other coursework, substantial class or homework, and mock exams taken over the course of study.

ASCL Cymru carried out a survey of school and college headteachers and principals in Wales. Of the 70 respondents:

  • 3% said they would be happy to pay WJEC 75% of normal exam fees.
  • 19% said they would be comfortable with paying WJEC 50% of normal exam fees.
  • 54% said they would only want to pay WJEC 25% of normal exam fees.
  • 24% said they would want to pay WJEC 25% or less of normal exam fees. Of these respondents, 76% said they would not expect to have to pay any more than 10%.

The main reason given for paying a significantly lower percentage of normal fees was the heavy burden placed on schools and colleges in having to develop and run a grading system and limited resources, guidance and support provided by WJEC. 

The survey also revealed that over 87% of schools and colleges in Wales will be using a combination of exam-style papers and non-exam evidence to assess students for GCSEs, A-levels and other qualifications this summer. 

More than 47% will attach greater weighting to exam-style papers, with 37% giving roughly equal weighting to both exam-style papers and non-exam evidence. Just under 3% intend to give greater weighting to non-exam evidence, while no school or college that responded will use non-exam evidence alone to assess students.

Less than 6% intend to base gradings solely on exam-style papers sat in exam-style conditions.

Eithne Hughes, Director of ASCL Cymru, said: “It comes as no surprise at all to learn that school leaders are unhappy at having to pay any more than a small proportion of their normal exam fees given they are having to shoulder the heavy burden placed on them to assess and grade their students this summer.

“Schools are working night and day to facilitate a very different arrangement to that both they and students have been used to and, unlike their colleagues in England, they have no choice regarding the exam board they are required to use, with WJEC effectively occupying a monopoly position. 

“It is down to the initiative, resilience and flexibility of schools and colleges that students across Wales can feel reassured they will get gradings that are fair and that allow them to move to the next stage of their lives.

“It is particularly pleasing that schools have clearly thought very carefully about how they award grades this summer and have demonstrated a strong level of flexibility in giving their students the fairest approach in the circumstances.

“It is important that everyone understands that there is no one-size-fits-all model out there, and that nobody thinks this is an ideal situation.

“Schools and colleges will be working very hard to ensure standards are as consistent as they can be across Wales. There will of course be both internal and external quality assurance processes to try to ensure that grades are fair and consistent, but the appeals process that backs this up is yet to be announced and schools and colleges need this detail as soon as possible to give reassurance to their students.

“It is also important to recognise that this process represents an enormous amount of work and additional pressure on schools, colleges and their staff, following on from the extremely demanding period of the pandemic. It is essential that they get as much support as possible to allow them to perform this very challenging task.”

The ASCL Cymru survey was conducted from 4 - 10 May by emailing a survey link to 170 members who are headteachers in schools and colleges in Wales. Most of the 70 responses (91%) were from state-funded secondary schools, while 3% were from independent schools and colleges, and the remainder came from all age and special schools.