How we locate Private Candidate Examination Centres
Many of you may have wondered how we decide where to locate our private candidate examination centres. Hopefully this article will shed some light on the process we adopt, what factors we consider and our future plans.
Since opening our first examination centre in Coventry in 2014, Tutors & Exams have opened a further four centres in the intervening six years. The first of those was based in Bolton back in late 2016 followed shortly after by Wimbledon in early 2017. After a period of consolidation, we opened our fourth centre in Doncaster in Sep 2020 and our latest centre, St Neots (Cambs), opened for business in January of this year. Each centre can accommodate a minimum of 80 candidates on any given examination session/date (am or pm) and is staffed by two personnel.
We regularly receive requests, many from the Home Education community, imploring us to open a centre in their locale. We’d love to be able to accommodate all requests for new centres but it’s just not possible. So, what factors do we consider when deciding a new centre location?
Well, first and foremost, it comes down to financing. An anathema to some I know but, unlike schools or colleges that are funded by the taxpayer, Tutors & Exams is a family-owned company founded explicitly to serve the Home Education community and private candidates. Therefore, all costs associated in running a centre; rent, rates, equipment, staff salaries, invigilation etc need to be covered to ensure long-term financial viability. The annual cost of running an examination centre? It might surprise you to know that it is circa £125k per annum, minimum.
With that in mind one of the primary considerations when we locate a centre is demand, potential or otherwise. Presently our centres serve the main metropolitan areas in England; North West (Bolton), Yorkshire/Humberside (Doncaster), West Midlands (Coventry) & London (Wimbledon). Our latest centre, St Neots (Cambs), was a deliberate departure from that model. Rather than opting to locate our 5th centre in or around London, where demand is strong, we chose to open a centre to service demand from the East of England where candidate volumes are lower but, examination accessibility to private candidates is scarce. In effect we listened to customer feedback/requirements and acted upon it. And given the applications we have received to date we made the right choice!
Other factors we consider when choosing a centre location? Transport access (good road/rail links), suitability/availability of premises (to meet exams inspection service criteria), availability of exam centres prepared to accept Private Candidates (private or state funded institutions), population density & operating costs to name but a few.
So, where next? Well, we’ve been busy these last few months. Not just arranging Teacher Assessed Grades for thousands of candidates but also identifying potential centre venues with the intention to open them in readiness for 2021/22. Two are looking particularly favourable at present although I can’t say too much here. What I can say is that we are at advanced stages in negotiations for both venues, each of them broadening our reach nationally. Continuing our commitment to provide greater access to private candidates, whether home taught or working with distance learning providers, who struggle to find suitable examination venues. Look out for further announcements later in the next month or so.