Help to access exams and assessments

Access arrangements are designed to enable children and young people with special educational needs, disabilities or temporary injuries to take exams and assessments.  They include reasonable adjustments that are needed to make exams accessible for candidates who have disabilities.

Access Arrangements fall into two categories: some arrangements are delegated to centres, others require prior JCQCIC awarding body approval.

What does the law say?

The Equality Act 2010 requires an Awarding Body to make reasonable adjustments where a disabled person would be at a substantial disadvantage in undertaking an assessment.

What access arrangements may be available?

There is a whole range of different arrangements that can be put in place.  Decisions are made on an individual basis.  The list below contains some, but not all, of the access arrangements that could be provided:  

  • Extra time.  Usually around 25%.  More time can be allocated to candidates with more severe difficulties and disabilities on an individual basis.
  • Reader (human or computer).  Readers can be used for candidates who have visual impairments or a disability that affects their ability to read accurately themselves. A human reader cannot be used as a reasonable adjustment where a candidate’s reading ability is being assessed.
  • Scribe.  Can be allocated to candidates who have a disability or injury that affects their ability to write legibly / at an age-appropriate speed.  A word processor should be considered first. 
  • Prompter.  A prompter can keep a student focused on the need to answer a question and move on.
  • Practical assistant.  Can perform practical tasks as specifically approved by the awarding body and according to the candidate’s instructions, unless the skill to be performed is the focus of the assessment.
  • Modified paper.  This includes different sizes, fonts, colours, braille or modified language and must be ordered well in advance of the exam.
  • Assistive Technology.  If the candidate uses assistive technology as their normal way of working they will be able to continue this for exams.  This includes word processors, exam reading pens, computer text readers and voice processors.
  • Supervised rest breaks. If the student is overwhelmed, the clock is stopped for an agreed period and the paper removed. The student can then sit at their desk or walk about outside until they are ready to resume at which point the clock is restarted.  The SENCo must always consider if supervised rest breaks would be more appropriate before making an application for 25% extra time.
  • Separate room
  • Communication Professional (for candidates using Sign Language)

Access arrangements for public exams are designed and regulated by the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ).  They aim to meet the “particular needs of an individual candidate without affecting the integrity of the assessment”. 

Can I get exam access arrangements?

Speak to your school or college who will be able to tell you more about access arrangements, discuss your individual needs with you and make a request if required.  

Your setting will need to look at:

  • Your special educational need, disability or temporary injury and evidence of how it affects your ability to access exams and assessments on a substantial and long term basis.  
  • Your normal way of working in the classroom.  Any access arrangements applied for must be the candidate’s normal way of working.  They cannot be suddenly granted to you at the time of the examination.  For example, if you need a laptop for exams you should have a history of using a laptop in class.
  • Which exams you would need access arrangements for.

For most Access Arrangements, an assessment by a Level 7 qualified specialist teacher is required to see if you meet the criteria. Some students with known disabilities will only need to provide medical evidence, for example, a student who requires a word-processor due to a physical disability and is using it in the classroom.

Who can assess for exam access arrangements?

For the access arrangements requiring assessment to see if the student is eligible, the JCQ regulations (2019/2020) currently state that the assessor, with an appropriate Level 7 qualification, must be:

  • employed within the centre
  • employed in another centre e.g. within the Academy chain
  • employed by the Local Authority or
  • be an external assessor who has an established working relationship with the centre or, before an assessment, establishes a relationship with the centre.

Current regulations also state that:

"A privately commissioned assessment carried out without prior consultation with the centre cannot be used to award access arrangements and cannot be used to process an application using Access Arrangements Online"(JCQ 2019/2020, 7.3.6). 

Entrust offers a traded service for schools to carry out access arrangement assessment and to complete the relevant Form 8s.  Assessors have the appropriate Level 7 qualification and establish relationships with the school before assessment to meet JCQ requirements. 

What are the timescales for requesting access arrangements?

Prior to request

You may find it useful to talk to your school’s SENCo before you start the course of study at the end of Year 9.  Similarly, if you are at college, you may find it helpful to talk to the special educational needs department as soon as possible, even if you have previously been granted access arrangements. This allows time for a variety of access arrangements to be tested and if appropriate put in place in the classroom as part of your normal way of working.

“Access arrangements should be processed at the start of the course. Schools, for example, should be able to process applications at the start of or during the first year of a two-year GCSE course having firmly established a picture of need and normal way of working during Years 7 to 9.”  Paragraph 4.2.4 JCQ CIC  Adjustments for Candidates with Disabilities and Learning Difficulties - Access Arrangements and Reasonable Adjustments.

Request for access arrangements

Depending on when you are due to sit your exams, this may need to be done well in advance.

For examinations in May/June 2020 the setting will need to apply no later than mid February 2020 or no later than the end of January 2020 for modified papers. 

Your setting will be able to tell you more.  

My access arrangements have been agreed. What happens next?

The SENCo and/or the assessor must work with teaching staff, support staff and exams office personnel to ensure that approved access arrangements are put in place for internal school tests, mock examinations and examinations.

What are special considerations?

Special Consideration is a post examination adjustment to a candidate's mark or grade to reflect temporary injury, illness or other indisposition at the time of the examination/assessment.  Any applications made for Special Considerations would need to be supported by evidence.

Where can I find further information?

Access arrangements for public exams are designed and regulated by the Joint Council for Qualifications.  Visit their website for more information and the latest guidance on access arrangements and reasonable adjustments for candidates with disabilities and learning difficulties.  This document is updated each year, usually in the autumn term, and provides all the necessary information on how to apply.

Having recognised the challenges autistic students may face when taking exams, such as sensory overload, the Department for Education commissioned the Autism Education Trust to develop guidance around accommodations.  The guide helps teachers and examination officers plan for and support autistic students when taking public examinations and tips to prepare the student.  This guidance has been written specifically to support autistic students being entered for GCSEs, but the principles and good practice examples can be applied to all public examinations.


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