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Exam Access Arrangements (EAAs) are the reasonable adjustments that can be made for an exam candidate, and might include things like extra time to complete an exam paper, permission to use assistive technology, or provision of rest breaks. Sophie Irwin from the Good Schools Guide's SEN team outlines what is available, and who is eligible.

Who can get exam concessions?

Exam arrangements can only be granted if they are a candidate’s ‘normal way of working’ and the candidate has a history of need. This is quite commonly misinterpreted, so parents beware. Any arrangements made must reflect the support that the candidate has had in the past few years, alongside their assessment test results.

An assessor’s report must show that the candidate has a significant and long-term impairment. For example a candidate who is eligible for extra time would need to have scores that are below average in speed of writing, reading, reading comprehension or cognitive process, demonstrating they work much more slowly than others. This must then be backed up by teachers, and evidence must be provided that this is the candidate’s normal way of working.

What sort exam arrangements are available?

This list is not exhaustive, but these are some of the most common arrangements:

Extra time: The most frequent EAA is extra time which is usually around 25%. More time can be allocated to candidates with more severe difficulties and disability on an individual case by case basis. We know of one pupil allowed seven hours to complete a maths paper using eye gaze technology.

A reader: Readers can be used for candidates who have visual impairments or a disability that affects their ability to read accurately themselves. In an exam that assesses reading ability a human reader is not allowed. In some cases a computer reader will be allowed.

A scribe: Scribes can be allocated to candidates who have a disability or injury that affects their ability to write legibly.

Modified papers: These are papers which must be ordered well in advance of the exam in different sizes, fonts, colours, braille, or modified language.

Assistive technology: If the candidate uses assistive technology as their normal way of working they will be able to continue this for exams. Some of the most common requests are for word processors, exam reading pens, computer text readers, and voice processors.

Separate room: Many candidates who have EAAs will need to work in a separate room.

Rest breaks: Supervised rest breaks, these are not included in the extra time allowance.

Candidates who have a history of needing rest breaks and/or a separate room do not necessarily have to apply for EAAs, the school's special needs co-ordinator (SENCo) can organise this as long as it reflects the person’s normal way of working and can be evidenced. The SENCo must be satisfied the need is genuine, and those eligible might include pupils with learning, communication and interaction needs; a medical condition; and sensory, physical, social or mental and emotional needs.

Do Exam Access Arrangements cover coursework and practicals?

Not necessarily. Arrangements only apply in certain circumstances where it has been evidenced that for particular skills, the candidate is at a substantial disadvantage compared to others.

Although currently few exams involve coursework, a candidate who has extra time for exams is unlikely to have this arrangement for coursework as it is not a timed exam.

A candidate who qualifies for access arrangements in exams that involve reading, spelling and writing would not necessarily get the same arrangements for practical based tests or exams such as painting, photography or sports.

Special Considerations:

Special Considerations are a separate issue and a post-exam adjustment so should not be confused with Exam Access Arrangements. An exam centre can apply for Special Considerations for a candidate in exceptional or adverse circumstances such as bereavement, serious illness or accident. Any applications made for Special Considerations would need to be supported by evidence.

When should applications for Exam Arrangements be made?

If you are aware your child is likely to need Exam Access Arrangements draw the school’s attention to this during year 9. Candidates will need to be assessed by the school or college’s assessor with the standardised testing materials to see whether they qualify. Applications must be made by the Joint Council for Qualification’s annual deadline which varies but is always during the Spring term.

Don’t leave it until the Easter holidays, you will be too late!

Who assesses Exam Access Arrangements?

Schools and colleges must have a designated member of staff, usually the SENCo, who organises exam arrangements and then works with an exam officer to put the arrangements in place. Schools and colleges should have an in-house officer to assess each candidate for exam arrangements. This person must be a specialist teacher with a Level 7 EAA assessing qualification.

EAAs need to be approved by the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ), which brings together examination boards for GCSEs, A Levels and Functional Skills to create uniformity in how exams are run.

The regulations have become tighter in recent years, and all schools and colleges that act as exam centres, regardless of how they are funded, must follow the JCQ directives. This is to ensure fairness across the spectrum. Exam centres are inspected by JCQ to check they are following the regulations correctly.  Inspectors can ask to see evidence to support any decision that has been made regarding an individual’s exam arrangements. Exam centre files are inspected to ensure that unfair advantages are not being given to candidates. 

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