Special needs examinations: some frequently asked questions answered

Before the summer 1999 examinations, Edexcel had special circumstances for 6,941 GCSE students and 2,376 GCE students; 1,620 copies of enlarged or modified enlarged question papers for visually impaired candidates were despatched. After the summer exams, there were about 28,600 GCSE special consideration cases and about 17,600 GCE special consideration cases. These are usually for students who have been ill, or have had specific difficulties before an exam, or perhaps a family bereavement.

When can a candidate be allowed a reader?

Candidates may be allowed readers on the grounds of learning difficulties that seriously affect literacy skills. The examining bodies will need to see a report from either an educational psychologist or a qualified specialist teacher. We look for a reading accuracy age of not more than 10 years. The corresponding figure for GCE A-level and AS exams is 12 years. The report should have been written within two years of the exams.

Candidates may also be allowed readers if they have physical disabilities that prevent them reading or make it very difficult, such as visually impaired candidates who have difficulty reading large type, or who have not learned Braille, and candidates with cerebral palsy who cannot focus on the letters.

There are a few subjects in which effective reading is specifically included in the assessment criteria for the syllabus and in which a reader therefore cannot be allowed, such as exams in English, English literature and modern languages. Here some reading assistance would be permitted for some visually impaired candidates but all would be required to have read part of the paper for themselves.

In what circumstances can an amanuensis be allowed?

Candidates with severe literacy difficulties, who could not communicate their answers in any other way, are permitted to dictate them, except in subjects (for example, English and modern languages) in which the ability to communicate effectively is specifically tested. The examining bodies ask to see a report from an education psychologist or qualified specialist teacher, supported by examples of the candidate's unaided work.

If a candidate is allowed to dictate answers in a GCSE exam that carries marks for spelling, punctuation and grammar, or in all modules of a GCE examination that carries marks for quality of language, an indication will be printed on the back of the certificate that the candidate has been exempted from meeting the full range of assessment objectives in the subject.

Candidates may also be allowed amanuenses on the grounds of injury or serious physical disability. In these cases it is not usually necessary to print an indication on the certificate, as it is usually possible for the centre to supply an example of the candidate's unaided written work.

What special arrangements lead to an indication printed on the certificate?

The examining bodies tr to avoid printing indications on certificates and most special arrangements can be permitted without it being necessary. Indications are on certificates when candidates have not been able to meet the full range of objectives, to avoid misleading users of the certificate, such as colleges and employers. The usual reason for an indication is that the candidate has used an amanuensis for a subject that carries marks for spelling, punctuation and grammar or quality of language, due to difficulties affecting literacy skills.

A centre may also ask for a candidate who has written for himself or herself in an examination that carries marks for spelling, punctuation and grammar to be exempt from marking these abilities. An allowance is made for the marks lost but an indication is printed on the certificate. No exemption is allowed from the marking of quality of language in A-level and AS exams. Exemption cannot be granted where literacy is an integral part of the exam.

What arrangements can be made for those whose first language is not English? Why is there inconsistency between the arrangements allowed for GCSEGCE and those allowed for GNVQ?

Work is in progress on bringing together the GCEGCSE and GNVQ regulations and guidelines, as far as possible. Currently the only special arrangement allowed to GCE or GCSE candidates on the grounds that their first language is not English is the use of a bilingual dictionary (in book form, not an electronic translator). For GNVQ, candidates are allowed 25 per cent extra time in addition to the use of a bilingual dictionary.

When the matter was discussed in relation to GCE and GCSE, it was considered that users of the certificate expected that success in the exams implied fluency in English. Edexcel does not require that candidates have been in England for only a limited time before agreeing to the use of a bilingual dictionary.

What evidence does a centre need to allow extra time without seeking permission from the examining bodies?

For GCSE and GCE, heads of centres may now allow candidates extra time, up to 25 per cent of the time allowance, without asking the permission of the examining body. When extra time is given to a candidate with a learning difficulty, the centre should have evidence of a history of difficulties, in the form of a statement or report. The psychological assessment report should have been written within the candidate's secondary school career.

What arrangements can be made to give hearing-impaired candidates the opportunity to sit papers based on taped material?

The examining body can arrange to send a printed transcript of the taped material to the centre, so that it can be lip read by the candidate. The text is read by a modern language teacher. Other papers will test their reading skills in modern languages.

Compiled by the special needs team at Edexcel. Tel: 020 7393 4500 www.edexcel.org.uk

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