The Equality Act 2010 requires exam boards to make reasonable adjustments where a candidate, who is disabled within the meaning of the Equality Act 2010, would be at a substantial disadvantage in comparison to someone who is not disabled.
The idea is to level the playing field for the child with the disability.
Read all about what kinds of adjustments may be made, and in what circumstances, in the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) regulations here:
How has it worked for home educated students in the past?
Up to quite recently, when a home educated student required AAs, they would approach a centre and ask if it accepted Private Candidates (PCs). If it did, the parent would inform the Examinations Officer (EO) at the centre of the need for AASs, and the EO would deal with the application process. Usually, the EO would ask for evidence of the need for the AA being asked for. If, for example, the parent was asking for a Reader for a child with Dyslexia, there would need to be a report from someone qualified to diagnose that condition. Sometimes, the school SENCO was happy to interview the child and conducted a reading test or something like that. Usually, that was all the EO needed and the candidate would be awarded the Reader on the strength of that report.
In the last couple of years, the JCQ regulations have been tightening up. Firstly, a requirement was introduced so that all such reports and assessments needed to have been conducted by someone who is either a currently registered Educational Pyschologist or a Specialist Assessor with a particular set of approved qualifications. Many schools, whose SENCOs had been doing all the assessing, found that they were no longer qualified to do so and schools found themselves needing to buy in such services until one of their own staff could become qualified in the Level 7 (Masters standard) qualification. Evidence of a ‘history of need’ for the AA was also required. This might have meant the parent submitting a piece of written work for the file which included the assessment report.
The Latest Changes
This academic year, further changes were brought in.
History of Need is the Primary Requirement
The exam centre is now required to start collecting evidence of the ‘history of need’ for the AA being applied for from very early on, from around year 9. If the student’s normal way of working, for example, is to be allowed extra time, consistently, to complete written assignments, this would obviously constitute proof of the need for the AA of extra time in the exam. The subject teacher would write a report to the SENCO to explain this. The ‘history of need within the centre’ is what will trigger a full assessment to be carried out by the Specialist Assessor and the report from that will contribute to (but is not guaranteed to unlock) the application for AAs.
SENCO is the Lead Professional
The other significant shift is the change from the Exams Officer taking the lead in application for AAs to it being the SENCOs responsibility, although the ultimate responsibility is with the Head of Centre (usually the head teacher).
Relationship with Specialist Assessor
Additionally, the centre now needs to have an ongoing professional relationship with the Specialist Assessor who does the assessment. If you have a report from an assessor who has recommended a particular AA, the centre may not accept it, because they do not know, and do not regularly work with, that assessor.
What does this mean now for home educated children?
Unfortunately, some exam centres may well be put off dealing with Private Candidates who need AAs. Anecdotal evidence seems to be that this is already starting to happen. The time and effort involved for already over-burdened SENCOs may just be too much.
The possibility is that fewer centres will want to deal with PCs at all. After all, it would be awkward for some EOs to accept non-disabled/autistic/dyslexic candidates but say no to disabled ones. Some Heads of Centre will not want to be thought of as being discriminatory, so they may well simply close their doors to PCs altogether.
What can parents do to make things easier for themselves?
- You must make plans well in advance. A year before the expected exam sitting date is not too early. Contact the exam centre and ask if they would be able to accommodate a candidate with the specific need and AA you want and think your child is entitled to.
- If your child has a medical report and diagnosis, or has already had an assessment with a Specialist Assessor, this will be helpful, so inform the centre of that. Ask if those reports will be accepted by the centre.
- If they don’t have an assessment, ask the centre if they have the name of a Specialist Assessor with whom they already work.
- Ask how you can fulfil the centre’s requirement to provide a ‘history of need’.
- Be prepared to do whatever you are asked to do to provide that.
- Be prompt in replying to emails, sending in evidence etc.
- Always be polite to the person from the centre you are dealing with. Remember that they are essentially doing you a favour and are under no obligation to provide such a service.
- Finally - Don’t leave the exam entry to the last minute. PLAN AHEAD!
NB, Cambridge Examinations International (CIE) board is not governed by the JCQ, although all other exam boards are. They have equally strict procedures for AAs, but are different in key areas.
I will be writing more on this subject in coming months.