Special Educational Needs - Vocal support for dyslexia in exams

Computer readers give students independence, experts say

Kerra Maddern

Reading and comprehension tests can prove a challenge for many children, but for students with dyslexia and other reading difficulties they are even more problematic. Now, for the first time, technology is coming to their aid.

Students in England, Wales and Northern Ireland will have greater access to computer software that reads texts to them, rather than having to struggle to decipher it themselves, in this summer's exam season.

Children judged to have sufficiently serious problems will be permitted to use a computer reader as part of their GCSE, AS- and A-level exams.

Students have previously been allowed to have questions read to them. But this is the first time that they will be able to listen to entire passages designed to assess reading comprehension. In the past, whole passages could not be read out in case this provided any advantage - for example, through intonation.

Nick Lait, senior manager of exam services for the Joint Council for Qualifications, which represents exam boards, said that the change allowed students to work more independently.

"Special educational needs coordinators have said to me how much this has opened doors for some candidates, and given them access to independence, particularly in GCSE English language exams," he said.

Kevin Geeson, chief executive of the charity Dyslexia Action, said: "Text-to-speech is part of the way children nationally are working in their studies: it is being used in the classroom. We are not seeking an advantage through technology, (but) this is an important step forward."

Dyslexia consultant Malcolm Litten, a member of the British Dyslexia Association's new technologies committee, said that the change opened up the "possibility of a more accurate and fair assessment" for students.

But he warned that not all students eligible for use of the computer reader would get access because schools would find it hard to provide the software or hardware in time, or space for students to sit the exam using the technology.

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Kerra Maddern

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