Are exam access arrangements enough or are we setting some kids up to fail?

One of the access arrangements you can apply for during exams is extra time which can be very much needed if a child has a slower working and processing speed but is the amount of extra time enough? My son was awarded 10 minutes per hour extra time, which for subjects where there is not much writing, works well for him. He takes roughly 10 minutes per hour extra to complete and check his exam so this makes sense. 

However, for essay based subjects such as English language, I feel we may be letting some of our kids down and setting them up to fail. 

For instance some children are academically bright, they will want to progress with their education and will need an English GCSE to do that. Unfortunately English is a subject many autistic children struggle with. There is a combination of comprehension, reading between the lines, inferences, processing speed and writing speed needed to pass an English language exam that, even with extra time, some children will struggle with. 

If we break down what 10 minutes extra time actually means we can see that for a 2 hour exam paper, a child will be given 2 hours and 20 minutes to complete their paper, which for English will involve reading 2 or 3 long texts, answering some short questions and one or 2 longer pieces of writing. 

Some children are more than capable of reading the texts, pulling the answers to the questions and writing long pieces of writing, however some are very slow readers or very slow writers or find it very difficult to find the answers in the text so take a lot longer to answer. Again, when it comes to the longer written pieces, some children will take a long time to process what they are being asked to do, think of their ideas and work out how to put these ideas onto paper. 

Quite simply, it could take a child 4 or 5 hours to produce the same amount of work as the average exam sitter and that isn’t taking into account the sensory overload caused by actually sitting the exam that could make all their thought processes even slower. 2 hours and twenty minutes is never going to be enough time for some children to showcase their ability or potential.

I am not actually sure there is an answer to this problem. Obviously the cost and logistics involved in longer exams and the amount of strain it would put on a child to perform for so long would make 5 hour exams impossible but it seems sad that some children who are academically bright with a lot of potential to progress to more suitably assessed subjects need a GCSE that is almost impossible to attain their potential in. 

For us covid did us a favour, the requirement for Cambridge English language IGCSE was 3 significant pieces of work. With no time constraints, we took 2 weeks dedicated to English and took it slow with plenty of breaks. My son did brilliant independent work that maybe would have taken someone else 2 hours and he fortunately will be given a grade he deserves for his ability and effort. Others won’t be so lucky.

I’m wondering if in future there needs to be a different way of providing access arrangements and assessments for children with SEND. One similar to the way the Cambridge exam board did their assessments this year. Exams don’t suit everyone but we shouldn’t be limiting those without the ability to read, think and work fast, when they could achieve just as well, if not better than their peers if given more time.

What do you think? I’d love to hear your opinions in the comments.

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Published by Autism Kids on Tour - Autism without limits

I have two kids and love to show them the world. We dont let autism limit us in our adventures! I write about our adventures and include tips on how suitable activities were for children with autism. I also write more autism specific posts.

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