👩‍🎓 Exam Access Arrangements (EAA)

Article by Joanne Mills on the types of Exam Access Arrangements and their importance for these for students. Joanne is an Advanced Inclusive Learning Practitioner and Specialist Dyslexia Teacher and Assessor.

Exam Access Arrangements are adjustments made for candidates prior to an exam. They are based on evidence of need and normal way of working.  They are the reasonable adjustments that can be made for an exam candidate, aimed to meet the particular needs of an individual candidate, who has the required knowledge, understanding and skill, but who is unable to demonstrate this due to their disability or additional/ special need. These adjustments / arrangements must not affect the integrity or demands of the exam.

For example, for an exam that is designed to test the candidate’s ability to read, a reader cannot be provided as an access arrangement. For an exam designed to assess written ability, a candidate cannot be given a scribe as an access arrangement. Access Arrangements allow candidates with special educational needs, disabilities or temporary injuries to access the assessment.

For example, a candidate who is in an exam that is assessing reading ability may not have a reader, but can have a scribe to record their answers, as the exam is not accessing the candidate’s ability to write. A candidate sitting a Maths exam can have a reader, as the exam is assessing the candidate’s mathematical ability not ability to read.

Special needs could include:

  • candidates with known and long-standing learning difficulties
  • candidates with physical disabilities, permanent or temporary
  • candidates with sensory impairment
  • candidates whose first language is not English, Irish or Welsh
  • candidates who have difficulties at, or near, the time of assessment that may have
    affected their performance in the assessment.

The Equality Act (2010) defines a disability as a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long term negative effect on tour ability to do normal daily activities. (It is worthy to note that the Act doesn’t apply to Northern Ireland).

Access Arrangements can include:

  • Extra time
  • A reader
  • A scribe
  • Use of an exam reading pen, a word processor or assistive software (screen reader/voice recognition)
  • Exam papers printed on coloured paper, computer screen tints
  • Supervised rest breaks
  • Prompt
  • A small group or separate room to take the exam in

Access Arrangements fall into two distinct categories: some arrangements are centre delegated, others require prior JCQ awarding body approval.

GCSE and A-levels are covered by JCQ regulations. Other qualifications such as Vocational, Technical and Functional skills are not, but those awarding bodies have their own regulations that are comparable to the JCQ regulations.

Why do we need EAA?

The Equality Act (2010) states that schools and higher education institutions have a duty to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ for disabled students (including students with learning difficulties, such as dyslexia). As well as reasonable adjustments in the classroom, schools must put in place Exam Access Arrangements (bda.org.uk 2021).

JCQ Statement in the AARA (Access Arrangements and Reasonable Adjustments) 4.2.11 Failure to comply with the regulations contained in this document have the potential to constitute malpractice which may impact on the candidate’s result(s).

Failure to comply is defined as:

  • putting in place access arrangements that are not approved; or
  • permitting access arrangements within the centre which are not supported by the required evidence as per these regulations; or
  • not putting in place appropriate arrangements for candidates with known and
    established learning difficulties/disabilities

Morally and ethically, we have a duty as educators to enable learners overcome barriers to learning. In order to establish fairness and equality we need to ensure that we make reasonable adjustments to accommodate difficulties learners experience. In order to assess the ability and progress of such learners, we need to ensure we are assessing what we intend to assess – the content and purpose of the exam – not difficulties that impact on their ability to demonstrate this.

How do you decide who receives them?

In order to ensure fairness and equality, EAA can only be awarded if there is evidence or need and we have evidence of how the candidate typically work; so we need to evidence that the EAA in place reflect the candidates Normal Way of Working (NWW).

Evidence / History of Need (HoN)

If a learner has the following there is evidence of need...

  • EHCP
  • Diagnosis of medical condition e.g. ASD, ADHD, dyspraxia, PDD.

...they are entitled to EAA. They DO NOT need an assessment as these are evidence of a substantial need; they have already been assessed and found to have a substantial need. We still need to provide evidence of the individual’s normal way of working. A learner does NOT need a diagnosis of a learning difficult, including dyslexia to receive Access Arrangements. A diagnosis of dyslexia will NOT mean automatic EAA; it is evidence of the student’s needs in their normal learning situation which is most important.

The JCQ regulations clearly state that an independent assessment carried out without prior consultation with the school cannot be used as evidence towards EAA, however it can be used to build a picture of need and can be used to inform decisions made by school about EAA. This picture is built by looking at Evidence / History of Need (HoN) and Normal way of Working (NWW). To ensure the evidence of need is robust in this instance certain assessments are conducted and scored to ensure there is a standardised evidence-based decision on which to base EAA.

Normal Way of Working (NWW)

Normal ways of working are reasonable adjustments that a school/college takes to ensure learners with additional needs can fully participate in the education provided, and that they can enjoy other benefits, facilities and services that the school/ college provides for pupils.

These can include:

  • Coloured overlays or paper to reduce visual disturbances and discomfort which can make reading more difficult and slower
  • The provision of handouts to reduce the need to copy text or take notes
  • Use an easy to read font, of a certain size and chunk text to make it easier to read
  • Provide assistive technology e.g. a computer for someone who writes slowly or illegibly
  • Allow thinking time
  • Break information into small chunks
  • Read text / instructions to the whole class to discretely support those who struggle to read.

Joanne Mills
Advanced Inclusive Learning Practitioner and Specialist Dyslexia Teacher and Assessor