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Exam boards launch review as parents exploit mental health loophole to get students extra time

Posted on: 2018-08-14 06:00:00

As thousands of pupils prepare to receive their A-level results this Thursday, an exam chief has hit out at the “flawed” system which some are manipulating to give undeserving pupils a “leg up”.

Requests for extra time have soared in recent years, with 15.7 per cent of all GCSE and A-level students awarded 25 per cent more time last year.  

Ofqual has asked exam boards to carry out an independent audit of documents which set out the special dispensations - known as “access arrangements” - that can be awarded to children with learning disabilities.

Andrew Harland, director of the International Exam Officers’ Association, said the current system for requesting an access arrangement is “just madness”.

He told The Telegraph that there is a “sense of injustice” as some see the system as a “barrier”, while others are “abusing” it. "Extra time is a bone of contention, and it is not being used properly," he said.

Figures from Ofqual show that 25 per cent extra time is the most popular form of special dispensation for exams,  and has increased by 37 per cent over the past four years.

Other forms of access arrangement can include having a reader, scribe, an exam printed on coloured paper, or computer assistance.

Chris McGovern, chair of the Campaign for Real Education, said: “Middle class, articulate and motivated parents are playing the system to gain an advantage for their own children.

“There’s been an explosion in concern about the mental health of young people. This is isn’t simply invented, but it provides a very good excuse for a parent to ask a doctor for a note saying their child suffers from stress or anxiety.

In some cases it may be genuine, but it is undoubtedly true that the system is exploited. The increase is an indication that parents are becoming more and more aware of how they can play the system.”

Ofqual carried out a probe into extra time arrangements last autumn amid concern about the steep rise in requests for extra time, The Telegraph understands. 

It passed its findings on to the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ), which represents the country’s leading exam boards, which wrote to 300 schools earlier this year asking them to review their arrangements ahead of this summer’s exams. 

"There is a lack of clarity. The system could be abused if people wanted to abuse it" - Andrew Harland, director of the International Exam Officers' Association

Ofqual also asked JCQ to carry out a review of its publications surrounding access arrangements, saying that policies should be laid out comprehensively. 

Mr Harland said that “the whole system is flawed”, and should be overhauled so that policies surrounding access arrangements are presented more clearly, leaving no room for misinterpretation.


“There is a lack of clarity. The system could be abused if people wanted to abuse it,” he said.


“Good schools know the system. Pushy parents in any environment, wherever they are, they will go for it and you can’t blame them. 


"People are abusing the lack of clarity and could be acting in an inappropriate way. We are saying let's make the system clear and you will know exactly where you will stand.  The people losing out will be students."  



Mr Harland told how exam officers are using extra time in a variety of ways. “Some are using it as: ‘This is a weak class, let’s give them extra time’. 

“Some don’t need it at all - it is not being possibly assessed and is being used as a leg up. Or students are given it in the exam but not in the classroom. Or students in exam halls see their mates walk out and think ‘I don’t want to be stigmatised, I’m going’."  

An Ofqual spokesman said: “We welcome the review by the Joint Council for Qualifications of its guidance documents, including with regard to access arrangements.

“We expect exam boards to have provision in place to make reasonable adjustments for candidates with special educational needs or disabilities to take exams without changing the demands of those exams.”

Ofqual said they were  “closely monitoring” the increasing number of requests for extra time in exams.

A JCQ spokesperson said access arrangements should not provide students with an “unfair advantage over their peers”.

“The system ensures only those students with a need for an access arrangement receive one”, the spokesman added.

“There is a rigorous set of criteria that needs to be met, including a standardised assessment by a qualified person for extra time.”



Source: The Telegraph

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