If your child has a learning difficulty including a specific learning difficulty like dyslexia or other conditions such as dyspraxia, they may be eligible for extra time during exams.
What are 'Access Arrangements'?
'Access Arrangements' are there so all children can access the exams. These arrangements include up to 25% extra time, the use of word processors, a scribe, voice recognition software and a change of font for exam papers. For children with ADHD extra breaks may be allowed.
A child with ADHD may need to take exams in a separate room and have the opportunity to walk around during a break. Advice around their medication and the right time to take it involving school staff also needs to be considered.
Suzie's son Joe is about to start Year 6. "He's currently being assessed for ADHD and the nurse is going into his school soon to observe him. I'm worried that he will not have extra time in his SATs unless the school puts this in place," she said.
"At the moment he is supposed to work in 15 minute blocks instead of 45 minute sessions. He cannot concentrate for long periods of time and he would be disadvantaged in his SATs if he didn't have breaks."
Access Arrangements at Key Stage 2
Arrangements for children like Joe are easier for the school to implement compared to GCSE and A level exams.
As long as your child's SENCO in primary school shows there is a history of needing additional time, or that your child has difficulty accessing exam material, arrangements can be put in place. No formal assessment by an educational psychologist is required.
This is what the Department of Education says: "Schools will use the 'Access arrangements' section of the NCA tools website to respond to a short series of questions about the child. The questions will draw on teachers' knowledge of children and their ability to assess an individual child's levels and corresponding access needs."
However, schools do have to ensure that all evidence is submitted before the initial deadline, which is in February. If you think your Year 6 child is eligible for extra time, a reader, a scribe or any other kind of special arrangement, it's best to talk to your child's teacher sooner rather than later.
Further information can be found at on the Government's website.
Access Arrangements for GCSEs, A levels and Higher Education
When your child is sitting GCSEs or A levels the situation becomes more complicated. Access Arrangements are only available if your child has had a formal assessment.
Sometimes the school has a suitably qualified teacher who can carry out the assessments – this is usually the SENCO but may be a specialist teacher who is trained in dyslexia and has additional training to assess children for exams.
Children are assessed and then referred to educational psychologists if teachers notice specific or unusual tendencies that require more investigation. Private educational psychologists also carry out assessments and these can be arranged though an organisation such as Dyslexia Action.
For children who are dyspraxic, or have ADHD, diagnosis and assessment is usually through your GP who can arrange for your child to be seen by a paediatrician, an educational psychologist, a speech and language therapist, or an occupational therapist.
Parents should ensure that any assessment by a psychologist takes into account co-existing conditions such as speech and language difficulties with Asperger's.
What kind of arrangements are available for my child?
The Joint Council for Qualifications lists the types of arrangements that may apply:
Candidates with learning difficulties may require for example:
• supervised rest breaks
• extra time
• a computer reader or a reader
• a word processor
• a scribe
• a prompter
• a practical assistant
• coloured overlays
• coloured/enlarged papers
• papers with modified language
For children with ADD/ADHD the JQC suggests:
"A candidate with ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) has persistent difficulty concentrating and poor working memory. Supervised rest breaks and the use of a prompter, who may need to physically show him where on a page he had been working in order to re-start his work, would be reasonable adjustments."
How to obtain an assessment.
It's quite possible that if you have a child with a specific learning difficulty they have slipped through the net and not been identified. This tends to happen more with brighter children who are achieving at an average level, but who could achieve more if their difficulties were recognised.
If you have any concerns about your child - maybe there is a history of dyslexia and dyspraxia in your family - it's worth having your child assessed, either through the school and the LEA educational psychologist, or privately.
If it's solely for exam arrangements you need to wait until they are at the start of Year 9, otherwise an updated assessment would be required when they sit their exams in Years 10 and 11.
Victoria arranged a private assessment by an educational psychologist for her daughter: "The educational psychologist was reasonably sure she was dyslexic although she was only seven. When she was almost 16 she was assessed again in time for her exams.
"The second assessment confirmed dyslexia. Sarah was allowed extra time in both her GCSEs and her A levels. She was slightly embarrassed at having the extra time, but she recognised the value and it took off a lot of the pressure and she achieved good grades."
Assessments can be given at university if your child has missed out on a diagnosis. Some universities assess without cost, whereas others ask the student to pay 50 per cent towards the cost of the assessment often arranged through Dyslexia Action. Universities may need an updated assessment if the previous one was done several years ago.
Amy described what happened to her daughter: "My daughter Chloe was never diagnosed as dyslexic even though she attended independent schools with small classes. She was diagnosed at end of her first year at university where she was studying geography.
"The access arrangements included extra time which was of huge benefit to her as she then had time to think properly about each exam question, which is hard for her as she has virtually short term memory. She is slow at writing and extra time enabled her to finish a paper.
"The diagnosis has really increased confidence in her ability as until she was diagnosed she thought she was just a very slow reader and writer who couldn't remember what she'd just read. She also uses a green overlay to help her read more quickly."