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Ofqual - Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation

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Information for:

Extra Time in Qualification Examinations and Assessments for Learners with Dyslexia or Other Specific Learning Difficulties


Reasonable adjustments for disabled learners

Reasonable adjustments are used to remove or reduce a substantial disadvantage that a disabled person would face when compared with a person who does not have a disability. Disabled learners are entitled to apply for a reasonable adjustment to the way they are assessed for their qualifications.

Awarding organisations’ duties

Awarding organisations have duties under the Equality Act 2010 to make reasonable adjustments for disabled candidates in England and Wales. It is expected that parallel legislation will be introduced in Northern Ireland. The Equality Act says that a person has a disability if that person has a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long term adverse effect on the person’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.

Joint Council for Qualifications

The Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) co-ordinates the approach awarding take to reasonable adjustments in GCSEs and GCEs. JCQ manages an on-line facility ‘Access Arrangements on Line’ that centres use to apply for reasonable adjustments on behalf of their learners. Access arrangements include but are not limited to reasonable adjustments for disabled learners. Centres make one application per candidate to cover all the qualifications being undertaken by the learner. This provides consistency of approach and is easier for schools and colleges to manage than if they had to apply separately to each awarding organisation for each qualification a learner is taking.

JCQ produces each year a booklet ‘Access Arrangements, Reasonable Adjustments and Special Consideration – General and Vocational Qualifications’. This sets out the range of access arrangements available, together with the evidence a centremust have about the learner’s needs before it makes an application on behalf of the learner.

Extra time for dyslexic learners

In its 2011-12 booklet JCQ specified in more detail than it had previously the evidence a school or college should have about a learner’s disability before it requests extra time for him or her to complete the exams and assessments required for a qualification. The additional detail was included because schools and colleges were found to be using different approaches to determining and recording candidates’ need for extra time. As a result, candidates in some schools or colleges were being given extra time which they would not have been given if they were studying at a different centre.

The evidence that JCQ specified as necessary in its 2011 – 12 booklet will not be available for all candidates who have previously been granted extra time. This has led to concerns that high performing candidates with dyslexia or other specific learning difficulties might no longer qualify for extra time of up to 25% in which to complete their exams or assessments.

Representatives of the independent school sector discussed these concerns with Ofqual, the Welsh Government (the qualifications regulator in Wales) and JCQ at a meeting Ofqual convened on 30 November 2011. At this meeting the independent schools’ representatives raised further concerns about the way JCQ communicated the requirements and how it consulted on any changes.

Discussion held on 31/01/2012

Ofqual arranged a further discussion on 31 January 2012 involving a wider range of interests in order to gain a better understanding of the issues and concerns relating to the up to 25% extra time allowance for candidates with dyslexia and other specific learning difficulties. The list of organisations represented at that meeting is shown in Annex 1.

During the discussion participants acknowledged that there is a tension in trying to be clear and specific about which disabled learners are entitled to a reasonable adjustment whilst also taking the specific needs of individual candidates into account. There were different and strongly held views expressed at the meeting about the use of standardised tests to assess a candidate’s reading, writing and processing speeds. Questions were raised about the reliability of the tests and the suitability of the different tests that are available. Questions were also raised about the appropriateness of basing decisions to allow a candidate to have extra time on the speed with which they read, write and process information. Some dyslexic candidates read, write and process at speeds faster than the average time for the cohort, but not as quickly as they might be expected to if they did not have dyslexia. There was discussion as to whether these candidates should have extra time in which to complete their exams.

It was also acknowledged that many candidates who do not have dyslexia or a specific learning difficulty would like more time in which to complete their exams and might also gain higher marks if they had more time to complete and check their work.

Learners taking exams in summer 2012

Where a candidate is at the same centre, the reasonable adjustments approved for learners prior to 1 September 2011 will still hold, even where the centre that made the application did not hold the evidence that the JCQ requires. Most learners taking exams this summer will not be affected by JCQ’s decision to be more explicit about the evidence required to support an application for extra time as centres will have made the applications before 1 September 2011.

The number of learners affected

The current arrangements appear to be working well for the majority of learners for whom the allowance of up to 25% extra time is requested. The group of high performing learners on whose needs recent discussions have focused were estimated by some participants in the discussion on 31 January to account for about 2% of all dyslexic learners.

Next Steps

There will be no changes in access arrangements for learners taking examinations this summer (2012).

Ofqual, working with the qualifications regulators in Wales and Northern Ireland is:

  • Seeking further legal advice on learners’ entitlement to reasonable adjustments.
  • Seeking advice that will help us understand the specific exam-related adjustments that learners described at the meeting as ‘bright dyslexics’ might need and how learners who come within that group might reliably and objectively be identified.
  • Seeking views from other interested parties who were not present at the meeting on 31 January.
  • Gathering further views on how provision for reasonable adjustments can best be communicated and asking JCQ and the awarding organisations on whose behalf JCQ works to respond to those views.
  • Considering the consistency of approach to access arrangements for other similar qualifications that are taken as alternatives to GCSEs and GCEs that are not covered by the JCQ booklet.

Ofqual and the other regulators are aiming to complete these actions before JCQ finalises its 2012/13 version of its booklet ‘Access Arrangements, Reasonable Adjustments and Special Consideration – General and Vocational Qualifications’.

Annex 1

List of organisations were represented at the 31/01/2012 meeting

ASCL (Association of School and College Leaders)

BDA (British Dyslexia Association)

CCEA (Qualifications and Examinations Regulator for General Qualifications in Northern Ireland)

Communicate – Ed (Training Provider)

DfE (Department for Education)

Welsh Government (Qualifications and Examinations Regulator in Wales)

Dyslexia Action

EDSU (Exams Delivery Support Unit )

EOA (Examination Officers’ Association)

GSA (Girls School Association)

HMC (Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference)

Independent Schools Association

Independent Schools Council

JCQ (Joint Council for Qualifications)

NASEN (National Association for Special Educational Needs)

Ofqual (Office of Qualifications and Examination Regulations)

PATOSS (Professional Association of Teachers of Students with Specific Learning Difficulties)