Assurances given over GCSE exam fees

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A Derry school principal has said no student would be stopped from sitting higher GCSE exams after parental anxieties over fees.

One parent contacted the Derry Journal this week to raise concerns after being asked to pay a £15 exam fee for her daughter to sit a Higher Maths GCSE.

The Year 12 (fifth year) pupil at St Mary’s College in Derry had previously sat the Foundation Level Maths GCSE in Year 11 (fourth year).

The girl’s mother said she only became aware of the fee during a parent teacher meeting last week, and said she did not have the money to pay.

She said the situation was even more scary because if children don’t sit an exam, parents can be fined £60.

The Derry woman claimed: “I would see through it if it was a repeat test or a re-mark, but we were never told this would happen when the children sat the previous exam in 4th Year, where the highest grade they could get was a C. We got no letters out about this.

“There are 26 wains in that class and I would say 10 of their families might not be able to afford it. These children are entitled to a secondary education and that education is supposed to be free.”

The woman also raised concerns that this was something that may become more widespread in schools into the future, which she said was making a mockery of a child’s right to free education for all regardless of circumstances.

It is understood however that setting a fee for Higher Exams is already practiced among many schools as they already foot the bill for the Intermediate exam, and exam boards require a second fee if they sit the Higher paper.

However St Mary’s College Principal Marie Lindsay said no child would ever be stopped from sitting an exam because of inability to pay.

She said: “The issue is now resolved in line with our practice of entering all pupils for exams regardless of their circumstances.

“We will continue to work hard with parents to ensure that family circumstances are never a barrier to our young people achieving the highest possible academic standards.”

A spokesman for the Department for Education meanwhile said: “Post-primary schools are expected to meet examination entry fees from within their delegated budgets. Chapter 19 of the Governor Role and Responsibilities Handbook states that no fees or charges can be levied in respect of the entry of a registered pupil for any public examination for which the pupil is being prepared by the school.

“However, there are circumstances when a school may pass on the cost of examination fees to pupils, namely when the pupil may have received private tuition or be re-sitting an examination.”