College leaders are calling for a fundamental review of "unaccountable" charges by exam boards, warning that spiralling exam and assessment costs could scupper the reform of A levels. The Association of Colleges says that cutting external assessment could be the answer.
The AoC has found that some colleges are paying up to Pounds 250,000 in fees to exam-awarding bodies, and that assessment and exam costs are one of the largest non-salary costs for colleges.
These costs could spiral under the broadened sixth-form curriculum from next September when students will be expected to take more exams, more modules and more resits.
The AoC warned that "a massive 50 per cent rise in the cost of providing future A levels and other exams looms menacingly over further education and sixth form colleges". Director of curriculum and quality, Judith Norrington, said: "We must curb rising exam costs to ensure they don't jeopardise the government's broadening of the curriculum.
"For too long now, the justification for awarding-body fees and charges has been cloaked in a veil of secrecy. It is time for much greater openness and transparency on awarding-body costs."
Ms Norrington said that colleges use between eight and 35 different awarding bodies, paying each one for general validation and registration of each student. There is scope for reducing costs by cutting the number of syllabuses, using information technology more effectively and decreasing the amount of external assessment.
Ms Norrington acknowledged the importance of rigour provided by a strong external element, but said: "There is no evidence to suggest that when things are internally assessed they are less valid."