Access arrangements (help in exams)

What are access arrangements?

Extra help in public exams is known as “access arrangements”. Their purpose is to allow students with special educational needs, disabilities or temporary injuries to access the assessment and show what they know and can do. They must not give the student an unfair advantage or compromise the integrity of the assessment.

Examples of access arrangements include:

  • Extra time
  • A reader
  • A scribe
  • Assistive software (e.g. screen reader/voice recognition)
  • A word processor
  • Working in an individual room
  • Supervised rest breaks
  • Modified papers (colour, font size, braille etc.)
  • A prompter

Access arrangements must be appropriate to the exam and the student. For example, a student with dyslexia may need extra time for a written exam, but not for a practical one.

Any kind of access arrangement must reflect the student’s normal way of working (except in the case of injuries). For example, a student would only be allowed to use a laptop in exams if they normally use one in class. The arrangement must not suddenly be granted at the time of the exam.

Who qualifies for access arrangements?

Access arrangements are a way of discharging the duty to make reasonable adjustments set out in the Equality Act 2010. To qualify, a student would need to be considered “disabled” within the meaning of the Act – that is, having a mental or physical impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. This impairment must put them at a substantial disadvantage in comparison to someone who is not disabled.

For some types of access arrangements, a student must undergo a formal assessment before the school can apply for them. These assessments might measure things like reading speed, writing speed, spelling accuracy, or cognitive processing speed. To qualify, the student’s scores must fall well below the average expected for their age.

How do you apply for access arrangements?

It’s important to start the process early. For GCSEs, all access arrangements should be in place at the start of GCSE courses. Talk to your child and ask them if they think they will need support in exams, and if so, how this can best be provided. Make sure they understand that this support will need to form part of their normal way of working in the classroom.

Next, ask the SENCO if your child is being considered for access arrangements – hopefully, they are already on their radar. The SENCO will have to consider your child’s need for access arrangements on a subject-by-subject basis, and determine what would be the most appropriate arrangement. Some access arrangements are not allowed in specific exams, e.g. students can’t have a scribe for Modern Foreign Languages.

What happens next depends on the type of access arrangements your child might need:

  • For arrangements like extra time, a reader, a scribe, a computer reader or speech-to-text software, a formal assessment is required. This needs to be carried out by a specialist assessor. In some schools, a member of staff (often the SENCO) holds the required qualifications. Alternatively, the school can commission an external assessor. Assessments are valid for two years.
  • If the assessment shows that your child qualifies, the school needs to submit an application to the Joint Council for Qualifications. Applications must be submitted by specific deadlines. For GCSEs taken in June, the deadline is usually in February.
  • Other access arrangements, such as supervised rest breaks, a prompter or provision of a laptop, can be decided by the school without having to carry out a formal assessment or submit an application.

For all access arrangements, the school must be able to produce evidence to show that the arrangement is part of the student’s normal way of working.

Every year, the Joint Council for Qualifications publishes a document called “Access Arrangements and Reasonable Adjustments”, which explains the rules in detail. You can download it here.

A note about SATS

Access arrangements can also be put in place for SATS, which are administered at the end of Year 6. Some access arrangements, such as extra time, early opening or compensatory marks, must be applied for in advance. Reports from professionals are not required. Pupils with statements or EHC plans automatically qualify for up to 25% additional time.

Other arrangements (e.g. scribes, word processors or other technical aids) do not require an application, but schools must notify the Standards Testing Agency after the tests have been administered. Some arrangements (e.g. readers, prompters, or rest breaks) require neither an application nor a notification.

As with GCSEs, any additional support provided in the tests must be part of the pupil’s normal way of working, and schools are expected to be able to provide evidence for this. For more information, please follow this link.