Requests from students with additional needs for special arrangements to allow them to sit exams have doubled in less than 10 years.
Of the 160,000 candidates sitting this year's Scottish Qualifications Authority exams, which began on Tuesday, 45,476 special requests were made by almost 12,914 students - just over 8 per cent. In the 2000 exams diet, 6,175 candidates made 27,359 requests.
Commonly-requested arrangements are: Braille, deaf candidates signing their responses or the question paper signed to a candidate, coloured, digital or enlarged print question papers, extra time, a prompter, a reader, rest periods, a scribe, and separate accommodation.
Ken Cunningham, general secretary of School Leaders Scotland, said as a general principle, the increase was a good sign as it meant the facilities were in place and being used by young people. But, he added: "It has put an extra burden and strain on schools, in terms of the preparation for it and making sure that the evidence base for what you are requesting is accurate, and the arrangements for examinations themselves."
The increase in special arrangement requests might be attributable to several factors, he suggested: greater awareness of support needs as a result of additional support for learning legislation, and more pupils with support needs being educated in mainstream schools.
John Stodter, general secretary of the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland, also saw the increase as "a positive sign". But he warned that the bill going through Parliament to amend the special needs legislation would land authorities with more costs. "It is difficult to predict the cost, but there almost always is one and our only concern is that these costs must be reflected in the resources which authorities and schools have."
Although not quantified, the leap in the demand for special arrangement provision has meant an increase in the number of invigilators and exam support staff. But secondary heads have expressed concern that a restructuring of the fee may disadvantage smaller schools which sometimes struggle to attract sufficient numbers of invigilators.
A spokesman for the SQA said the new structure aimed to address the disparity in activity levels between exam centres with large numbers of candidates and those with small numbers. Rates would have a bigger impact on chief invigilators than ordinary ones as the main change related to the "responsibility fee" covering pre-examination activity.
Thus, a chief invigilator responsible for 1,000-2,999 candidate entries receives Pounds 42.87 as a responsibility fee; at the top end of the six-point scale, a chief invigilator responsible for 11,000-plus entries receives Pounds 257.25.
"The previous fee structure did not provide a consistent approach," the SQA spokesman said. "It did not fairly reflect the volume of activity and the varied nature of the tasks required across examination centres."
Under the changes, 78 chief invigilators out of 525 will be affected; 62 are working in centres with fewer than 500 candidate entries.
Mr Cunningham said: "We need to watch the situation. It is difficult as it is to attract invigilators into school. If this was an added deterrent, it would not be helpful."
Mr Stodter suggested that invigilation work should be publicised more widely. "I think they might be surprised at the number of people interested in doing this, especially in the current economic climate," he said.