Exams can be especially challenging for SEN pupils. This SENCO Week provides you with ideas for the planning of special arrangements and support during this time

Spring and exam time may seem a long way away, but it isn’t too early to begin thinking about pupils who will need special arrangements in order to demonstrate their true abilities. Children and young people with SEN will benefit from careful preparation for any sort of test or exam and there may also be special arrangements to be made in terms of providing readers and amanuenses, for example.

  • Read the specifications for, and regulations about access arrangements available
  • Make a note of deadlines for applications (which can be made online).
  • Identify all pupils who will benefit from, and meet the criteria for, special access arrangements (usually those with a Statement, but pupils on School Action and School Action Plus may also qualify if you can meet the appropriate evidence of significant in-school support provided on a daily basis – that’s why it’s important to think ahead).
  • Ensure adequate staffing for each SAT or exam.
  • Schedule training sessions for readers, amanuenses and practical assistants.
  • Book rooms well in advance.
  • Plan with teachers and TAs how pupils will be supported through revision sessions and prepared for SATs and exams.

Updated guidance for access arrangements for SATs and KS 4 arrangements.

Who can benefit from special access arrangements?
Pupils with communication and interaction difficulties may need extra time to demonstrate written and oral communication skills. They may need to use a word processor, the assistance of a scribe to write for them or the use of an oral language modifier or a sign language interpreter.

Pupils with cognition and learning difficulties may require extra time for timed examinations and assessments, and reading or writing assistance.

Pupils with sensory and physical needs might require extra time, an oral language
modifier, a reader, a sign language interpreter, a practical assistant, a word processor, and/or a scribe. They may require papers with modified print or modified language.

Pupils with behavioural, emotional and social needs might require supervised rest breaks, separate invigilation or alternative accommodation arrangements. If they also have learning difficulties, they may require other assistance such as extra time (as above).

Access arrangements might include any combination of the list below:

  • Early opening of papers
  • Extra time
  • Supervised rest breaks
  • A reader or computer reader
  • A scribe or voice input system
  • A practical assistant
  • Use of a word processor
  • Production of a transcript
  • A prompter
  • A sign language interpreter
  • An oral language modifier
  • Papers in Braille, modified or enlarged
  • Low-vision aids
  • Tactile diagrams
  • Amplification Equipment
  • Bi-lingual translation including the use of a (bi-lingual) dictionary
  • Colour naming (for colour-blind candidates)
  • Coloured paper or overlays
  • Scanning papers for voice output software
  • A voice-activated computer
  • Alternative accommodation away from the centre
  • Separate invigilation

Ensuring that you have appropriate staffing to cover special arrangements for a number of pupils at any one time can be an issue – especially in large secondary schools, so make sure you have examination dates at hand and get this organised in good time. You also need to ensure that staff have received appropriate training as failure to abide by the regulations may lead to the candidate being disqualified.

For example, a reader must:

  • read accurately
  • only read the instructions and questions, not explain or clarify
  • repeat instructions given on the question paper only when specifically requested to do so by the candidate
  • not offer advice to the candidate about which questions to do, in what order, and when to move on to the next question

A scribe must:

  • write down or type accurately what the candidate has said, without giving factual help
  • draw or add to maps, diagrams and graphs strictly in accordance with the candidate’s instructions
  • write or word process a correction on a typescript or Braille sheet if requested to do so by the candidate
  • immediately refer any problems in communication during the examination to the invigilator

A prompter must:

  • only tap on the desk or on the candidate’s arm, depending on what is normal practice, in order to remind the candidate that he or she must pay attention to the question
  • not speak to the candidate, give factual help, offer any suggestions or communicate in any other way

For example, a candidate with an obsessive-compulsive disorder goes over the first question again and again. The prompter taps on the desk every quarter of an hour. The candidate knows how many questions have to be done in that time and tries to move on.

Preparing for tests and exams
The unfamiliar circumstances of a formal exam can unnerve pupils with SEN. It’s important, therefore, to prepare them carefully and make them as familiar as possible with exactly what is going to take place, where and with whom (especially now that many secondary schools use external invigilators). If an amanuensis is to be used for example, a few trial runs will help the process to run more smoothly on the day. Working through past papers can help, and the consideration of ‘exam vocabulary’ can avoid confusion and anxiety for all pupils.

Revision can be problematic for pupils of all abilities, but especially so for those with poor memory and poor organisational skills. Too often, it is a case of ‘too little, too late’ and a misplaced belief that looking at notes is a good way of preparing for an exam. Help students with SEN to draw up a revision timetable well in advance of exams, listing topics to be covered and breaking up the study into bite-size chunks. Teach them how to use ‘mindmaps’ as visual representations of facts and themes, how to study with a friend, take frequent breaks, get enough exercise and enough sleep!

This e-bulletin issue was first published in October 2008

About the author: Linda Evans is the author of SENCO Week. She was a teacher/SENCO/adviser/inspector, before joining the publishing world. She now works as a freelance writer, editor and part-time college tutor.