It may be that in your work as a tutor you come across a student who says they have an ‘exam access arrangement’.

This is basically an arrangement put in place for a student who has a disability which prevents him/her from performing at their true ability in an exam.

This may be a physical disability or a learning difficulty. For example, a students with visual impairment may qualify for Braille papers. A student with dyslexia (difficulties with literacy development) may qualify for reader, scribe or extra time and maybe all 3.

The idea is to create a level playing field with students who do not have a disability (we all have difficulties with certain areas of learning ; the term ‘disability’ has a specific definition under the Equality Act 2010).

Exam Access Arrangements are ‘reasonable adjustments’, i.e. adjustments which a school can reasonably be expected to resource. An exam access arrangement should not alter the assessment objectives within a qualification.


What is a disability?

Section 6 of the Equality Act 2010 defines disability as a ‘physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long term adverse effect on someone’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities’.

Substantial means more than minor or trivial.

Long term means the impairment has existed for at least 12 months, or is likely to do so.

Normal day-to-day activities includes study and education related activities.

So we see that there are strict criteria for applying for exam access arrangements.


Who writes the regulations for exam access arrangements?

The Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ). It is produced on behalf of the different awarding bodies (AQA, OCR etc). It is updated at the beginning of each academic year and is accessible online.


When is a student assessed for exam access arrangements?

No earlier than the start of Y9.


What does the assessment consist of?

Evidence for exam access arrangements is of 2 types:

  • Background information, eg. history of need, history of provision, normal way of working evidence, assessment reports where they exist, pupil tracking data, expressions of concern by teachers etc. This is recorded in Part 1 of Form 8 (Form 8 can be found on the JCQ website here). The definition of disability given earlier must be borne in mind at all times when considering whether a student is eligible for exam access arrangements. Once the Special Educational Needs Coordinator at the school has gathered this evidence, he/she will arrange for a psychometric assessment with a specialist assessor (‘psychometric’ here simply means using tests which yield standardised scores). The assessor should work within the centre or have an established relationship with the centre.
  • Psychometric testing

The assessor will run reliable, age-appropriate standardised tests which test skills relevant to the access arrangement being applied for.

This would be at any time after the start of Year 9. For example, if the background information points to a need for 25% extra time, then tests of speed (e.g. speed of reading, writing, visual processing) or of cognitive processing (e.g. working memory, phonological processing) would be used.

A standardised score of 84 or below together with background information would qualify the student for an access arrangement. A standardised score of 85 is the 16th percentile.

Details of the tests results are entered into Part II of Form 8.


Who can be an exam access arrangements assessor?

An exam access arrangements assessor would be either a Psychologist, an assessor with a current Assessment Practising Certificate or an assessor who has successfully completed a course at level 7, including at least 100 hours relating to individual specialist assessment.

The head of centre is responsible for the appointment of assessors.


How does the SENCO apply for exam access arrangements?

Via ‘Access arrangements online’ (AAO). The evidence must be kept on file for an inspector to examine. Not all arrangements need to be applied for online; some just need evidence of ‘normal way of working’.


Can a parent request that a student be assessed?

I can only talk about the school I worked in/work with. If a parent expressed concern to me as SENCO either directly or in a Parents’ evening, I would ask all the students’ teachers if they had concerns about the student’s learning, such as speed of working, and build up a picture of need. If I had sufficient evidence, then I would run standardised tests with the student. Generally I knew who to test as they were already on the SEN register.

All schools differ, of course!

FINALLY… if this has whetted your appetite for all things ‘exam access arrangements’ or if you fancy a good bedtime read… go to the JCQ document Access Arrangements and Reasonable Adjustments for more information and to check out my accuracy!