Last updated on: 22/10/2008
In September 2007, the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA) was extended to cover awarding bodies that offer general qualifications, such as A levels and GCSEs. The DDA already applied to vocational qualification bodies and relevant qualifications.
In anticipation of the impact of this on general qualifications, regulators of external qualifications in England (Ofqual), Wales (DCELLS), and Northern Ireland (CCEA), and the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) have worked to reach agreement on the use of oral language modifiers in examinations and the use of exemptions from components of general qualifications, such as GCSEs and A levels.
Over the past year, the regulators and the DCSF have met with awarding bodies and disability groups, consulting on issues of disability access and attempting to help these parties find common ground. This has resulted in:
Reasonable adjustments for disabled candidates
Awarding bodies for general qualifications publish their own regulations on the access arrangements that can be provided. These regulations are set out in the Joint Council for Qualifications' (JCQ) document Access Arrangements, Reasonable Adjustments and Special Consideration.
Following the extension of the DDA to general qualifications, it is a legal requirement for awarding bodies to allow 'reasonable adjustments' for disabled candidates taking general qualifications. Awarding bodies offering general qualifications had, in fact, been including arrangements for disabled candidates in their regulations for many years. However, in order to ensure equal access for disabled candidates, the regulators asked JCQ to consult disability organisations when reviewing their regulations and guidance for 2007/8, including reasonable adjustments. For more information on reasonable adjustments see the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
JCQ consulted with disability organisations including: the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB), the British Association of Teachers of the Deaf (BATOD), AFASIC, SENSE and the British Dyslexia Association (BDA). The JCQ publication Access Arrangements, Reasonable Adjustments and Special Consideration covers GCSE, GCE, AEA, ELC, basic skills and key skills examinations.
Exemptions and certificate indications for general qualifications
In support of the DDA's implementation, the DCSF put a new law (Statutory Instrument 2007 No 1764) before parliament, which came into force in September 2007. The new law states that although the competence standard for a qualification cannot be changed, for general qualifications, where a disabled candidate is placed at a significant disadvantage compared to non-disabled candidates, and no other reasonable step can be taken, such as the use of a reader, an exemption from a component can be offered, its purpose being to ensure that the disabled candidate is not disadvantaged. Disabled candidates must not be disadvantaged by the use of an exemption. The DDA applies to all general qualifications and general qualification awarding bodies.
Exemptions apply to the following qualifications:
- Entry level qualifications (including certificates in Adult Literacy and Adult Numeracy
- Free-standing maths qualifications
- General Certificate of Education (A and AS levels)
- General Certificate of Secondary Education
- International Baccalaureate
- Key skills
- the National Qualifications Framework in Scotland
- Welsh Baccalaureate Qualification
Oral language modifiers
An oral language modifier, previously referred to as an oral communicator, communicates the question, or parts of the question at the candidate's request, where the candidate has reading comprehension difficulties. However, technical terms (those on which the candidate is being tested) cannot be reinterpreted. The means of communication is appropriate to the need of the candidate and may include saying the word or phrase, using sign-supported English or writing. Oral language modifiers were originally made available for deaf candidates with reading comprehension difficulties. However, this may also be a reasonable adjustment under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 for other disabled candidates with reading comprehension difficulties.
In July 2007, it was agreed by JCQ, disability groups and the three regulators that oral language modifiers should remain available for a two-year pilot developmental phase until September 2009. During that time, oral language modifiers will be available for both deaf and other disabled candidates for whom it can be shown to be a reasonable adjustment.
We have approached the Chartered Institute of Educational Assessors to develop guidance materials and training, working with BATOD, NDCS, BDA, RNIB and a speech and language therapist. We will also lead further research into the demand for oral language modifiers. The pilot development phase will be closely monitored to ensure that candidates are not disadvantaged by the inadvertent incorrect explanation of technical terms in examinations. In the summer of 2008, and at the end of the two-year period, awarding bodies will again review the information provided by oral language modifiers at the end of each exam and consult disability organisations and the regulators on the way forward.
We, on behalf of the three regulators, set up the Oral Communicators Pilot Research Partnership in February 2007, with the involvement of awarding bodies, JCQ, the National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS), the British Association of Teachers of the Deaf (BATOD), AFASIC, SENSE and the British Dyslexia Association (BDA). DCELLS , DCSF, the Department for Education in Northern Ireland, the Disability Rights Commission (for England and Wales) and the Equality Commission Northern Ireland observed the process. You can read the research reports produced as a result of this pilot by downloading the following reports from this page:
- a report from JCQ and its awarding body members on what oral language modifiers do in the assessment
- a report on focus groups of deaf candidates and teachers (including oral language modifiers), and interviews with specialists in the field of disability and of public examinations
- a report on demand for oral language modifiers, as estimated by schools and other centres
- a summary of the three reports listed above.