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Q & A's from our free webinar ‘Ask the Expert Panel’ Teacher Assessed Grades - Summer 2021

Thursday 15 April 2021

Missed our free webinar ‘Ask the Expert Panel’ Teacher Assessed Grades - Summer 2021? We have compiled some helpful Questions and Answers that were addressed during the webinar. You can also watch the full recording on our YouTube channel by clicking on the button below.

Q. My school said my son needs to be tested for access arrangements for his GCSEs next year, but I do not really understand what this means and what will happen. Do I have to pay for this test? Can you help me please?

A. You should not normally have to pay for this test, particularly in a state school. Some independent schools may charge, but it should really be free. What it means is that a teacher has probably spotted that your son needs help with something, maybe he works a little slower than everyone else, or has difficulties with reading or writing. Access arrangements will give him this extra help in exams, so he might get extra time, or be able to use a reader or scribe.

To get these arrangements, the school needs to have proof from standardised scores that demonstrate that he does process information more slowly, or he does have a difficulty with reading or writing. If the standardised scores confirm this is the case, he will be eligible for these access arrangements in his exams. Access arrangements are designed to remove the disadvantage and ensure that he can demonstrate his knowledge about a particular subject.

Q. Who decides which children should have access arrangements in their exam and how do they decide what they should get?

A. This should be a collaborative process between the school, parents, and the child. It is often started by the school who have identified that there is a disadvantage for the child. These access arrangements should first be put in place during lessons to ensure that they help the child, and this also helps to establish that this is their normal way of working. An assessment should then be arranged to make sure that the child meets the criteria set out by JCQ for this arrangement, and that it is the right access arrangement for the need they have.

If you would like more information on this you could have a look at the British Dyslexia Association web page on access arrangements, or our parent’s factsheet. You could also google “JCQ access arrangements” to read their full regulations, or contact the British Dyslexia Association helpline to help answer your specific questions.

Q. My son uses a text reader and dictation software on his laptop in class and at home. He’s doing his GCSEs next year, but I wanted to know if he will be able to use these things in all his exams?

A. The simple answer is yes, but that is assuming that he meets the criteria set out by JCQ for that arrangement. Just because he uses these things in class and for homework, does not guarantee a right to use it in the exam. The JCQ criteria for using a reader is quite straight forward now. Schools just have to show that it is the normal way of working, so if he uses a text reader in class he should be allowed it in the exam.

It is important to understand that “normal way of working” does not mean that this is the way of working in every subject in every lesson, just that this is an established way of working. Justifying the use of dictation software is a bit more complicated. The tests must demonstrate that he works particularly slowly, or his handwriting is illegible, or his spelling is difficult to read and understand. This would be the same proof needed for dictating to a human scribe. The need to use a word processor is much easier to demonstrate, and there is now an emphasis on schools having an obligation to make this reasonable adjustment.

Q. I paid for my daughter to be assessed for dyslexia and the report said she should have extra time in exams. Her school says they cannot use this private report. What should I do to make sure she gets extra time in her GCSEs?

A. The school is correct in saying that they can’t use this report if it was commissioned without reference to the school. It could have been accepted if the assessor had had a conversation with the SENCO prior to the assessment taking place. The regulations state that if schools receive private reports, they can’t use this. But it should prompt the school to carry out their own assessments.

It is important to say that an assessment for dyslexia is something a school should not ignore unless they have solid evidence to contradict what is being said. It is important for schools to communicate to parents so that they understand these processes before paying for private assessments. It is also important to say that this is still a valid and useful report, and the school could use it to help paint part of the picture of evidence of need, together with their own scores from the access arrangement testing.

Q. My son struggles to read. What help can he have with reading in the exams? Someone told me there is a sort of pen that reads the question.

A. The pen you have heard about is called a Scanning Pen. It has a very specialist function and might not be the best option for help with reading in exams. There are two versions of the Scanning Pen – the normal version which includes a dictionary function and one for use in exams which has the dictionary removed. The Scanning Pen works by dragging the pen across the text that you want to read, and the pen will read it back to you. If you don’t understand a word it has read you can then ask the dictionary for an explanation. The exam pen can still be used to read the text out loud to you, but the dictionary function has been removed.

The pens are a good piece of technology for scanning individual words that people do not recognise. However, Scanning Pens can only read one line of text at a time, so if someone needs help in reading longer passages of text they should use Text to Speech software. Text to Speech software will probably be better for your son in exams, is widely available and built into lots of things such as Microsoft or Google documents. It can also be bought as specialist software to add on.

It is worth mentioning that in English Language GCSE a human based reader is not permitted, but computer readers, or Text to Speech software is permitted for those who meet the criteria for a reader.