Exam rules branded "discriminatory" against students with additional support needs

27th September 2013 at 01:00

Rules that dramatically reduce the assistance available for children with additional support needs in the new English National qualifications have been branded "discriminatory" and "unfair" by teachers and education directors.

Scotland's largest teaching union, the EIS, wants rules that ban scribes and readers assisting children with additional needs to be scrapped. And the Scottish Parent Teacher Council is also calling for examination body, the SQA, to drop the rules. It believes that the current state of play could be open to a legal challenge.

The director of Scotland's largest education authority has called on principal teachers of English to investigate the number of children that stand to be disadvantaged.

Under the previous examination system children with addition support needs who struggled to read or write could access support from readers and scribes in order to gain English qualifications.

However, one of the major changes under the new National qualifications, brought in this year, has been the introduction of mandatory literacy units to National 3 and National 4 English qualifications - the equivalent of Access 3 and Standard grade general.

When tackling the literacy units students would not be entitled to support, the SQA decided earlier this year.

Many children with additional needs - from those with physical disabilities to dyslexia - will now fail the literacy unit and as a result their National qualification, say those campaigning against the new rules.

In a seeming contradiction, students are entitled to the support at National 5 - a more advanced qualification and equivalent to Standard grade credit.

But Eileen Prior, executive director of the Scottish Parent Teacher Council, said National 4 was likely to be the highest qualification many of these children were capable of achieving.

"Some of the most disadvantaged children in Scottish society are being further disadvantaged by this decision," she said. "It's about equality of access. Someone's physical ability to write does not actually reflect their cognitive ability. This decision just does not make any sense and we feel it is discriminatory.

"The irony is that if these children were able to tackle National 5 English they would be entitled to both a reader and a scribe. But for a lot of these kids National 4 will be the pinnacle of what they can achieve."

"I think a legal challenge might come," she added.

Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the EIS also questioned why a scribe was a barrier to attaining English at National 3 and 4, but not National 5.

"It would seem they have got things back to front," he said. "Our view is that literacy should not be defined in terms of the physical ability to write.

Maureen McKenna, Glasgow's director of education, who sits on the SQA's advisory council for the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland said: "The issue is one of inequity. This is about children's qualifications and it is critical they are not disadvantaged this year because they are new."

An SQA spokesman defended the decision saying reading and writing were key skills in the new literacy units and learners had to demonstrate they had these skills.

"The provision of a human reader andor a human scribe would undermine the fundamental assessment objectives for reading and writing and would not allow the candidate to demonstrate the required level of knowledge and skills in reading and writing," he said.

Assistive technologies such as word processors, spell checkers, word banks, screentext readers and voice recognition software could be used, he said.

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