Exam refunds should be spent on education of Glasgow’s young people

Any refunds for exam fees made from the SQA to Glasgow City Council should be spent furthering the education of the city’s young people, the city’s education leader has said.

The refunds will go to Glasgow City Council.

The local authority’s convener of education councillor Chris Cunningham confirmed at Thursday’s full council meeting that council bosses are working to negotiate and reduce the amount the local authority owes to the SQA after exams were cancelled again this year.

During each school year, Glasgow City Council pays a levy of around £2.1 million to the national qualifications authority which would pay for staff, invigilation, marking and other work during the exam period.

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This is a long standing arrangement between the SQA and the city council. Had the levy been paid for the school year 2020/21 the council would have owed £4.3 million in total for the years 2019/20 and 2020/21.

During the meeting, councillor Cunningham confirmed that the council had not paid any of the levy this year but had paid the fee for 2019/20.

He said: “The decision to cancel exams over the last two years has meant that much of this work [carried out by the SQA] has not been done and full costs were not incurred.

“The costs involved are the subject of discussion between COSLA and the SQA. Glasgow officials are fully involved in the negotiations as are colleagues from neighbouring authorities.

“I fully expect that some level of fee will be paid but I don’t expect it to be the full amount.”

Following the meeting Labour’s education spokeswoman, councillor Aileen McKenzie said that the city council should be issued a refund with the extra money reallocated to other areas which need it.

She said: “Since the year 2019/20 Glasgow City Council has paid the SQA a surplus of £4.3 million when exams have been cancelled and the service received from the SQA has been well below standard.

“The only fair thing to do would be for the SQA to issue a refund, or even part refund of the fees which should be paid back to the council. This money could be redistributed to other departments that could do with the extra cash, cleansing for example.

“It beggars belief that the SQA have the nerve to expect full payment from any local authority when the only thing of note they have done in the past two years is downgrade pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds.”

Glasgow City Council paid the levy in 2020 because it was believed then that the cancellation of exams was a one off.

The costs involved for this year are now the subject of discussion between COSLA and the SQA.

Councillor Cunningham added: “This year is different. The decision to cancel exams was made much earlier and there was scope for planning and making arrangements.

“Last year is last year and you can’t go back and reinvent history. That’s a postural exercise that won’t achieve much.

“We ought to be careful that we don’t treat local government finance as a pick and mix exercise.

“Any rebates, refunds or reductions in fees should in my view be spent furthering the education of our young people.”

A spokesman for the SQA added: “The SQA levy to local authorities and entry fees charged to independent schools and colleges for the certification of national qualifications have remained unchanged since 2012-13.

“These fees provide a contribution towards the cost of awarding, rather than covering the full cost for that individual local authority, school or college.”