Pupils who have learning difficulties and disabilities may qualify for help (known as ‘access arrangements’) in public examinations. The most common arrangements are for extra time, or provision of a computer, or a person to read or write for the pupil (except for exams that specifically test these skills, such as English). There is a range of other possible arrangements for pupils with visual or hearing impairments, or other difficulties.

The legal requirement to make such adjustments arises under the Equality Act 2010. In order for this to apply, generally speaking the child or young person would need to fall under the definition of ‘disabled’ within the Equality Act – they must have an impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out day-to-day activities. For more information, see our page about disability discrimination.

If a pupil fits these criteria, then the responsible body of a school (the board of governors, or the proprietor in the case of an Academy) has a duty not to discriminate against that pupil, and the examination board has a duty to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate for that pupil’s disability. This is a legal duty set out in sections 85 and 96 of the Equality Act 2010.

How will the school or college decide who qualifies for help?

The school decides whether this support is needed by reference to rules laid down by the Joint Council for Qualifications (“JCQ”) on behalf of the exam boards, overseen by Ofqual. For each type of access arrangement, the JCQ sets evidence requirements which must be met for the pupil to qualify. The JCQ inspects schools to check that the evidence requirements are strictly followed.

The JCQ rules are lengthy and detailed, and are updated every year. For full information, the rules can be accessed on the JCQ website.

When a school is on notice that a pupil may need access arrangements, it should gather the necessary evidence of need from class teachers and others (such as parents, the pupil and any other staff and external professionals involved). The school may need to carry out assessment tests (e.g. of reading, spelling, comprehension, writing or processing speed). Documents such as an education, health and care (“EHC”) plan or a report from professional such as an educational psychologist may be supportive, but do not automatically entitle a pupil to access arrangements without additional corroborative evidence from the school.

The school should apply for permission to put the access arrangements in place for all assessed parts of the course (not just the final exam). It is best if the school applies before the pupil begins the exam course.

The first step

The first step is to speak to the class teacher and SENCO. If you have already done this, approach the head teacher or other relevant member of the senior management team for a meeting about the kind and amount of help which you believe is necessary. Be prepared to show evidence that the help is needed. The best evidence will be the fact that the child or young person has needed, and received, help of this kind in the past; for example, if they have previously received help reading exam papers, or extra time because they are slow at reading exam papers, in internal exams.

If you have any other evidence from reports that set out the child or young person’s difficulties (for example with reading, spelling or writing) and provides for them to have help in class or with tests, this is important supporting evidence.

If the child or young person has an EHC plan or a statement of special educational needs then this may strengthen your request, but it doesn’t create a legal obligation on the school to arrange this extra help with exams. However, if the EHC plan or statement specifies help with reading texts (for example, in the form of support from a teaching assistant) then this will be important evidence that this is how the child or young person normally works, and they are going to need the same kind of support in order to do their best in public exams.

It may be that there is not enough evidence that an access arrangement is the child’s ‘normal way of working’, perhaps because he has only recently arrived at the school, or because this need has only recently become apparent. But if your experience (and your child’s) is that he is only able to show his full potential when given the necessary support, you should insist that the school carries out the relevant assessment tests so that they can make an application for the access arrangement.

If that doesn’t work

If the head refuses to agree to arrange support for the child or young person with public exams, or even to agree to assess them for support, then you will need to put your request in writing and send it to the school governors. You can use our model letter as a template for making this request.

Clearly, the outcome you are seeking is for the school to agree to put the arrangements in place (or make the necessary assessments and application for permission). However, if the governors will not take action then you may have to consider making a formal complaint under the school’s complaints policy or a claim of disability discrimination against them on the basis of the failure to make ‘reasonable adjustments’. You can find out more about this on our page about making complaints.

 

If you haven’t been able to find the answer to your question on this page, see our FAQs.

Model letter 13: Asking for help in exams