Parents should not be “held over a barrel” by private schools says Education Secretary

Parents should not be “held over a barrel” by private schools demanding payment fees in return for predicted grades, the Education Secretary has warned.

Gavin Williamson said that teenagers’ futures should not be “threatened” by independent schools demanding payment of the summer term’s fees in return for submitting GCSE or A-level grades to exam boards.

His remarks come after The Daily Telegraph revealed that pupils were being “held to ransom” by schools refusing to process predicted A-level grades unless the final instalment of fees had been paid in full.

Students were told in March that all GCSEs and A-level exams will be cancelled this summer, with predicted grades awarded instead.

 Teachers must submit each pupil’s predicted grades to the relevant exam boards, which then go through a moderation process before being awarded formally to students later on this summer.

The Daily Telegraph has learned that some of the country’s leading private schools are refusing to submit predicted grades to exam boards unless the final instalment of this year’s fees are paid.

When parents explained to their children’s schools that they have been left financially ruined and are no longer able to afford the fees, they were told that if they do not stump up thousands of pounds, their child would be left with no GCSEs or A-levels.

One mother, whose daughter is in Year 11 at a private girls’ school, said she is “appalled” at the situation. “The school wrote us to say that if we don’t pay our fees for this term they won’t submit her GCSE grades to the examining board,” said the mother, who works in the hospitality sector. “We have lost thousands of pounds in bookings and are in no position to pay.”

A father, who tried to withdraw his two daughters from a leading independent school as he could no longer afford the fees, said he felt as though he was being “blackmailed”. 

 “Our eldest daughter was supposed to have taken her GCSE exams this summer,” he explained, adding the school is offering classes in cooking and photography rather than academic lessons in the summer term. They made it clear that if we don’t pay the fees, our daughter will not get her GCSE results.”

Robert Halfon, a Tory MP and chair of the education select committee, raised the issue with the Education Secretary at the most recent hearing.

Mr Halfon asked what steps the Government is taking to ensure private schools do not “capitalise on changes to exam grading” by demanding payment of fees in exchange for grades.

“Obviously that is a contractual agreement between a private sector organisation and parent,” Mr Williamson said. “But it’s absolutely vitally important that all children who want to take their A-levels have the ability to do so.

“No one should be held over a barrel in terms of being put in that position of people’s  future to be threatened.”

 Julie Robinson, chief executive of the Independent Schools Council, said that many schools have “bent over backwards” to ensure children are not disadvantaged by offering hardship bursaries or announcing there will be no rise in fees for next academic year.

 “Independent schools continue to engage with parents to help them as best they can at this difficult time, mindful of the challenges families are facing,” she said.  

 “We aren’t aware of any candidate who will not be entered into this year’s assessment, and would never advise any school to refuse to enter a pupil into this summer’s public examinations.”

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