Types of Access Arrangement
There are a number of different AAs. Here are a few of the more commonly used ones. There are others.
In order to award 25% extra time the SENDCO must determine the needs of the candidate based on one of the following:
• a current Statement of Special Educational Needs, or an Education, Health and Care Plan, or an Individual Development Plan, which confirms the candidate’s disability (supplemented by the required centre based evidence); or
• a fully completed Form 8 with an assessment (Part 2 of Form 8) carried out no earlier than the start of Year 9 by an assessor confirming a learning difficulty relating to secondary/further education (supplemented by a detailed picture of need).
In rare and exceptional circumstances, up to 50% extra time may be awarded.
Laptop or Word Processor
This is a very commonly used adjustment, but it is at the discretion of the exam centre , as it is a centre delegated arrangement for JCQ exams. Each exam centre must have its own policy for the awarding of laptop use in exams. Quite often, this is published at the school's own website, if the centre is a school.
'Centres are allowed to provide a word processor with the spelling and grammar check facility/predictive text disabled (switched off) to a candidate where it is their normal way of working within the centre. A centre must have a policy on the use of word processors. A word processor cannot simply be granted to a candidate because he/she now wants to type rather than write in examinations or can work faster on a keyboard, or because he/she uses a laptop at home.' This is from the JCQ regulations.
In practice, it is usual for those who request the use of a laptop (not their own!) to be allowed to use one, if they offer good reasons for requiring one, but it does depend on how many laptops the centre owns and how many their own students (the priority for an exam centre which is a school) will be needed.
These are some of the circumstances in which use of a laptop may be awarded to a candidate:
- a learning difficulty which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to write legibly;
- a medical condition;
- a physical disability;
- a sensory impairment;
- planning and organisational problems when writing by hand;
- poor handwriting.
Cambridge (CAIE) examinations have stricter requirements, such as completely illegible, rather than poor, handwriting.
Separate Invigilation (Own Room)
Separate invigilation within the centre. Or having a room of your own for an exam.
Firstly, and most importantly, ‘separate invigilation within the centre’ is an access arrangement (AA) and the need for the arrangement is determined by the SENDCO, in conjunction with relevant teaching staff and Exams Officer.
JCQ (the body responsible for setting the rules about AAs) are clear in that the decision if a candidate is entitled to the arrangement is the responsibility of the SENDCO. So, on what criteria should the SENDCO base this decision? On page 69 of JCQ’s Access Arrangements and Reasonable Adjustments publication, it is clearly stated that the decision must be based on the following criteria:
- The candidate’s difficulties are established within the centre - the candidate’s difficulties are known to a Form Tutor, a Head of Year, the SENCo or a senior member of staff with pastoral responsibilities.
- Separate invigilation reflects the candidate’s normal way of working in internal school tests and mock examinations as a consequence of a long term medical condition or long term social, mental or emotional needs.
- The candidate is at a substantial disadvantage when compared with other non-disabled candidates undertaking the assessment and it would be reasonable in all the circumstances to provide the arrangement. The JCQ document also clearly defines 'disabled' and the terms ‘substantial’ and ‘long term’.
The following are two examples where candidates would be eligible for separate invigilation:
- A candidate with depression or anxiety who is being supported by the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) .
- A candidate with an established medical condition or a formally recognised social, emotional or behavioural difficulty.
Where a candidate simply panics on the day of an examination or becomes anxious, then he/she should not be offered separate invigilation but be seated more appropriately within a main examination room.
Working with the SENDCO, and the EO who may highlight issues such as room availability and the need for additional invigilators, a centre-based decision is made on the need for separate invigilation.
The above is adapted from a guide produced for EOs by their industry body, The Exams Office.
As far as the actual experience of home educators and private candidates generally is concerned, practice varies considerably.
Many centres are now so overwhelmed by requests for separate rooms, due to the mental health challenges among their own students, that they are restricting this AA. Centres only have so many rooms and can't build more!
Some candidates find it very off-putting being in a room alone with one invigilator. It has been known for some to even complain that the invigilator was 'looking at me all the time' (That's their job). Some anxious candidates may find this intolerable.
Some centres have a 'smaller' room where they put their slightly anxious candidates and/or those with readers, scribes or laptops, so they don't have to go into the main hall. This does NOT require huge amounts of evidence or an illness or disability. But do be aware that it could be a little bit noisier than the main hall.
Some centres have special zones for anxious candidates at the back of the exam room so that they need not worry about being watched by other candidates, or near a door so that they can leave easily for a supervised toilet break if required. Others have a 'quieter' exam room especially for anxious candidates.
Lastly, if your child is the ONLY candidate sitting that exam at the centre and there are no other exams being taken that day by their own students, you may find your child has a room of their own by default. Sometimes parents then report that, 'Getting our own room was easy.' However, it isn't always as easy as that!
A few thoughts follow, coming from the Faregos SENDCO, a person who has scribed for candidates in exams, a home-ed mum, and an English tutor.
- Scribes are not easy to arrange. Certain specific criteria must be met for it to be approved. Normally, the child needs to be assessed by either the centre's SENDCO or a Qualified Assessor whom they employ, well in advance of entering for the exam. You can't just try to enter for the exam just before the deadline and tell the centre, 'Oh, by the way, s/he'll need a scribe.'
- Where there are obvious physical difficulties (eg no hands), then it is more straightforward to have approved.
- Some people find it very difficult to organise their thoughts verbally and to dictate, including punctuation, and edit everything the way they want. Some people's brains just don't work like that. Mine doesn't! (I know. I've tried it!)
- It needs a lot of practice. It really needs practice with the actual person who is going to be doing the scribing in the exam. And no, that can't be Mum. ;-)
- It's quite difficult from the scribe's perspective, too. When I've done it, I've been sorely tempted to fill in things which I know the student has forgotten, for eg, but I can't. I'm not allowed to bring MY knowledge or skills to bear.
- You can use a scribe in the Reading portion/paper of an English exam with no loss of marks, but not in the Writing paper or portion. Unless you dictate the spelling of every single word and piece of punctuation, you will lose all the marks available for SPaG. In English, this is often a considerable number.
- The JCQ is encouraging all who can to use laptops instead of scribes. After all, they argue, you are unlikely to have scribes in the workplace. Usually, it will be word processors.
- If it is handwriting legibility which is the issue, then a laptop is going to solve that problem, but it will require practice.
- If it is aching hands/arms, often practice will help to improve stamina and muscle strength. Think of it as being similar to running a marathon. You wouldn't tackle that with no practice in the months leading up to the race.
- If there is a genuine on-going problem with hand/arm strength which isn't improving, then sometimes the option of regular rest breaks will solve the problem. These are easier to arrange for the exam centre, with a lower burden of evidence for them.
Home Invigilation - sitting exams at home
JCQ exam regulations allow for exams to be conducted in a home, hospital, or other venue in 'rare and exceptional circumstances'. Schools and hospital school services sometimes arrange this for pupils who are too unwell to attend school for their exams. If your child is still registered at a school but does not attend and receives EOTAS (Education Otherwise Than At School ) provision from the Local Authority or a school then they may arrange home invigilation for you if they agree it is necessary. However, for children who are electively home educated, ie the parent has deregistered the child or they have never been registered at a school, it is very rare for this option to be available.
Few exam centres will agree to home invigilation because they have a responsibility to ensure the examination is carried out correctly. JCQ regulations concerning alternative sites for examinations specify the exam papers can only be removed from the centre's secure storage facility 90 minutes before the start of the exam (Instructions for the Conduct of Examinations 2018-2019 section 11.3). CAIE (Cambridge) exam board has its own regulations which are slightly different. The centre must be prepared to take responsibility for the paperwork involved in requesting this access arrangement, agreeing a suitable invigilator, checking the venue, undertaking a risk assessment, ensuring the room provided meets exam regulations, getting the exam papers collected from secure storage and taken to the home within the secure time frame, etc. This all has to be arranged and overseen on a day when the centre will usually be running exams at its premises for other candidates. It is a big undertaking for an exam centre. Nonetheless, a few home-educators have found local schools or private exam centres willing to do this.
If the student is worried about leaving the home because of anxiety, it may be possible to find other ways to enable them to sit their exams. You can request a separate room, or a quiet room, within the exam centre, and ask to be allowed to visit the exam centre a number of times beforehand to become accustomed to it.
If your child is sick on the day of an exam.
If your child wakes up with an illness so severe that they can’t attend the exam, phone the exam centre right away and speak to the Exams Officer(EO). They will tell you what to do. It is likely that you will need to fill in this form.
The EO will apply for Special Consideration, which is a 'post examination adjustment to a candidate's mark or grade to reflect temporary injury, illness or other indisposition at the time of the examination/assessment'.
If your child has an illness likely to impair their performance, but not serious enough to prevent them from attending the exam, you might try seeing your GP and somehow record that you have done so.
You could ask for the doctor to write a letter to be given to the exam centre but it is very unlikely that they will agree to this these days. The GMC has given GPs advice not to write such letters. Information about this from the BMA is here.
You might try to write a letter yourself with the time and date of the appointment and the receptionist might stamp it with the practice stamp to say that medical advice has been sought. But some practices won’t do that either.
Some GPs offer to print out a section of the child’s medical notes to be given to the exam centre. It would be up to your child as to whether they would like this to happen and they would need to request it themselves because of GDPR regulations.
Try to reassure your child that plenty of other candidates won’t be feeling great that day due to many other common illnesses. Everyone just tries their best and that everything will probably be fine! If you believe that your child’s performance really will be/has been compromised, tell the Exams Officer and see what they say. They may be able to apply for Special Consideration.
You need to let them know as soon as you can. There is no point waiting until the exam results come out!
Links on Access Arrangements and Home Education
JCQ regulations for Access Arrangements 2021-22
Cambridge regulations regarding Access Arrangements are in the Cambridge Handbook
Don't really want to home educate? If your child is too unwell for school, or is refusing to attend school, and you don't really want to home educate but don't see an alternative, read about EOTAS provision from local authorities before you deregister.