Why NSW is cutting back on its exam centre subjects

Over the last month or so, we have had a lengthy discussion about the future of the NSW exam centre. This was prompted by a number of factors but primarily by Cambridge’s extending of the exam timetable in recent years so that it now runs for over six weeks in the June session and over eight weeks in the November exam sessions. With administration for each exam session taking up a number of weeks – certainly two and possibly three, this means that NSW staff are being tied up with exams for around twenty weeks of NSW’s academic year. Since the NSW year runs for 37 weeks (including half terms) this accounts for over half of the year! Since our primary ministry is serving families and small schools both in the UK and overseas who require curriculum and tutorial support, a review of our current exam centre operations seemed necessary.

Early in our discussions we listed three possible options that were available to us –
1. Continue with the exam centre and employ additional staff;
2. Close the exam centre;
3. Reduce the number of subjects that we offer and thereby reduce the length of the exam period.

Option One – Employ additional staff
At first sight this seems like the ideal option. It would reduce the workload on current staff and maintain our current level of service with regard to the exam centre. However, the exam centre is not financially viable as a freestanding entity and current exam fees would not be sufficient to cover the cost of employing an additional member of staff. In order to be able to do this, exam fees would need to be increased significantly. This would still present a risk to NSW since it was felt that an increase in fees would result in a reduction in exam entries which would mean that NSW could potentially be left covering the cost of the additional staff.  This option was therefore dismissed as involving too much risk for NSW and its core ministry.

Option Two – close the exam centre
This option was dismissed quite quickly since there was general agreement that the exam centre was providing a valuable service to home educated young people and others.

Option Three – reduction in the range of subjects
Given that options one and two were both discarded, we were left to have an extended discussion about ways of reducing the range of exam subjects whilst attempting to minimise the impact on exam candidates. Having drawn up a comprehensive list of exam entries over the last three years a number of things became clear –

  • Very few students entered for examinations in the November session, with only four subjects having four or more exam entries over the entire three year period;

  • A number of subjects had no entries over the three years, both in the June and November sessions;

  • O levels attracted very few entries both in the June and November sessions, with only four subjects ever attracting entries;

  • A levels attracted very few entries both in the June and November sessions.

Based upon these findings a number of decisions were taken –

1. O levels and A levels would be removed from the November session, with the exception of A level Divinity, which is only examined in this session;

2. The range of IGCSE subjects offered in the November session would be reduced to cover key subjects. These key subjects represented those that candidates had undertaken with us over the last three years;

3. A small number of subjects would be removed from the June session list as a result of there being no entries in those subjects over the time that the NSW exam centre has been open.

It is our view that these changes represent a balance between the needs of NorthStar Worldwide, a small organisation with limited resources, and home educating families who require an exam centre. Whilst the reduction in the range of subjects for the November session is likely to have an impact on some families, all of these subjects are available in the June series and therefore no student is likely to be significantly disadvantaged as a result of these decisions.

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