Greedy exam boards favour rich private schools and disadvantage state schools with little money

Channel 4 ran an interesting item last night, which I appeared in, about the ways in which the different exam boards have increasingly been grabbing taxpayer’s cash, thereby favouring schools with big pockets and seriously disadvantaging cash-starved state schools. Exam fees went up 8.5% last year, and over the last decade have gone up 113%, with schools in England paying £328m to them. The top people at the exam boards pay themselves vastly more than our Prime Minister. While only Edexcel is the only commercially run organisation, the rest are supposed to be charities, claiming ‘tax-free’ status. Like their charitable counter-parts, the private schools, the only people they seem to be serving are the rich. Despite the increased cost to schools, there has been a number of high profile incidents where exam boards have made errors in marking, giving pupils the wrong grade. But state schools feel powerless when mistakes are made, I told Channel 4 News. I said wrong results, even if eventually corrected, are hugely demoralising for staff and students. And at £30 to £40 for each script remark, it is a huge gamble with hard pressed funds. “If you’re a wealthy school like Eton or Harrow, you can send a whole batch back for remarking and it’s a drop in the ocean.”  The truth is though that marks are rarely changed — there’s no real accountability for rogue markers — and in reality, state schools don’t ask for them to be corrected because they don’t have the cash.     It’s yet another example that illustrates how free markets in education serve the bosses and not the pupils.  


Published by: @wonderfrancis

Francis Gilbert is a Lecturer in Education at Goldsmiths, University of London, teaching on the PGCE Secondary English programme. He also teaches the Creative Writing module on the MA in Children’s Literature, which is run by Maggie Pitfield and Professor Michael Rosen. Previously, he worked for a quarter of a century in various English state schools teaching English and Media Studies to 11-18 year olds. He has, at times, moonlighted as a journalist, novelist and social commentator. He is the author of ‘Teacher On The Run’, ‘Yob Nation’, ‘Parent Power’, ‘Working The System -- How To Get The Very Best State Education for Your Child’, and a novel about school, ‘The Last Day Of Term’. His first book, ‘I'm A Teacher, Get Me Out Of Here’ was a big hit, becoming a bestseller and being serialised on Radio 4. In his role as an English teacher, he has taught many classic texts over the years and has developed a great many resources to assist readers with understanding, appreciating and responding to them both analytically and creatively. This led him to set up his own small publishing company FGI Publishing ( which has published his study guides as well as a number of books by other authors, including Roger Titcombe’s ‘Learning Matters’ and anthology of creative writing 'The Gold Room'. He is the co-founder, with Melissa Benn and Fiona Millar, of The Local Schools Network,, a blog that celebrates non-selective state schools, and has his own website, He has appeared numerous times on radio and TV, including Newsnight, the Today Programme, Woman’s Hour and the Russell Brand Show. In June 2015, he was awarded a PhD in Creative Writing and Education by Goldsmiths.

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One thought on “Greedy exam boards favour rich private schools and disadvantage state schools with little money”

  1. I can completely relate to this comment, one of my modules for my a level english was marked as a U, 8 marks out of 150. I was an A grade student and had nearly 100 percent in all my other modules. My teachers could not understand how this had happened they did pay for a remark however i was not given a higher grade. They sent the paper back and remarked it and stated it was between a C and a B not my best work however it would have resulted in a A overall whereas this U had resulted in an overal grade of a C!! English has always been my best subject and I was heartbroken. I undertook an appeal whereby the exam board made up a range of excuses including that my essay was not written in full sentences! I do not believe that as an A grade student that could be possible. Due to the fact my exams officer at school was sick for several weeks it was taken no further by my school i found out i couldve had a court appeal however the deadline had passed by the time i realised this. I contacted my local MP he even contacted the board to ask for assistance in this matter. Nothing got changed I was unrightfully given a C which is unjust and unfair. The exam boards have no one to answer to but themselves and unfortunately due to the fact the head examiner marked my paper it was very unlikely they would admit such an error.

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