Disabled students and assessment

Disabled students may need special arrangements for exams and other assessment. Find out how schools and DSAS can help.

Students with a long term disability

Special arrangements can be put in place for exams and other assessment for students with a long term disability. If the student has a Needs Assessment Report this will help identify the most appropriate arrangements for that student. If the student hasn't had a Needs Assessment it may still be possible to make special arrangements based on evidence of the disability and input from the student.

Once the appropriate arrangements have been identified, the Exams team, in consultation with Disabled Students' Assessment and Support (DSAS) and the parent school, will make the necessary assessment arrangements for the student.

Students who need adapted examination arrangements must register by the end of the first week of November for semester 1 exams and the end of the first week of March for semester 2 exams.

Schools will need to work with DSAS to ensure that coursework and other assessments managed by the school are appropriately adapted.

Arrangements are tailored to the individual student. Listed below are the types of arrangements that might typically be put in place. 

Blind and visually impaired students

Arrangements for assessment depend on the level of visual impairment, the student's preferred medium and the mode of communication and may include:

  • assessment/examination tasks in braille, large print or on tape. The colour of paper might also be changed eg black print on yellow paper or the font and size of font eg Arial 12 point.
  • use of a PC with accessibility options or specialist software e.g. JAWS. use of a reader or scribe.

Deaf and hearing impaired students

Deaf students may experience difficulties in understanding and undertaking assessment tasks and exams. Most deaf students will need alternative assessment arrangements.

Exam and assessment questions may need to be reviewed for potentially problematic language and phraseology. Where necessary, the carrier language will be modified without changing the meaning of the question. There will be no modification of:

  • technical, subject specific terms or phrases
  • any text of English Language exams
  • any text of foreign language paper material where the understanding of the source material is being assessed.

Deaf students should receive both a modified and original copy of the exam or assessment question so they can maximise their understanding of the task.

Language modification will be undertaken by the Learner Support Co-ordinator in DSAS in consultation with the student's school. The modified exam paper must be approved through the same process as standard exam papers.

Other common adaptations include:

  • use of a word processing software with spell and grammar checker
  • amplification for aural tests use of a reader to enable a candidate to lip-read in oral examinations or presentations
  • use of a sign language interpreter/lip speaker if the candidate has difficulty with speech.

In exceptional circumstances where learning outcomes cannot be assessed in any other way, students may be allowed to present assignments or exams in BSL recorded on video (recordings will be transcribed or voiced over by colleagues in DSAS). Two independent interpreters will jointly undertake the transcription and sign a declaration, which will be returned with the video recording to the external examiner.

Students will be given individual consideration for group work which may include a briefing session for staff and students to take into account specific requirements of the deaf or hearing impaired student and the monitoring of group dynamics.

Students with dyslexia or other specific learning difficulty (SpLD)

In all instances, recommendations will be individual and based on the evidence presented to DSAS.

Alternative arrangements might include for exams or other timed assessments:

  • Extra time, depending on the nature and degree of dyslexia (standard allocation is 15 minutes per hour, and this can be increased based on a needs assessment or psychological assessment).
  • Marking for content and not penalising the student unduly for spelling and grammar errors unless these are specific criteria for assessment.
  • A reader to aid comprehension of the questions.
  • Use of a computer in exceptional circumstances (use of a dictionary is not normally allowed, but where a special case can be made, further consideration will be given).
  • Audio recordings of questions.
  • Coloured acetate overlays.

 When setting coursework:

  • be clear about the objectives of assignments and consider accepting work presented in alternatives forms. Severely dyslexic students may, for example, have a difficulty with presenting their work in standard academic formats, such as the continuous argument of the essay and it may be appropriate to accept an assignment in an alternative formats (for example, in a list of bullet points).
  • if you have time, ask to see a draft of the coursework, make comments on the draft using the guidelines above and let the student use the comments to learn how to present the material.

 When marking assessed work:

  • consider whether it would be useful to skim assignments quickly first before a closer reading, since this may allow the ideas the student is presenting to come through and enable you to focus on marking for content rather than form.
  • when allocating marks, discount difficulties with spelling, grammar, punctuation and syntax, except where they clearly affect the meaning or form an explicit part of what is being assessed.
  • discuss any difficulties present in the student's work in a confidential setting and avoid making reference to a student’s SpLD in a public setting.

 When providing student feedback:

  • avoid giving very general feedback, such as stating that a point "needs developing"; specific examples of how a point should be developed will help a student to improve future performance.
  • be prepared to give detailed feedback and guidance to individual students in some cases. This may involve showing examples of good essays, with explanations as to the difference between the student’s work and the model(s). 

The aim is not to lower standards or to give privileges and markers cannot give marks for what is not there in an essay or what is so unclear that no sense can be made of it. It is important, however, to recognise the strengths and accomplishments of the student.

The majority of students with SpLDs can, with careful teaching and guidance, learn to present coursework in appropriate academic formats, such as essays and reports. However, some students will continue to have difficulties with logical sequences of ideas and with moving smoothly from one point to another in this type of work. Making the adjustments listed above will ensure that such difficulties are properly acknowledged and taken into account.

Students with Asperger syndrome

Until a full Needs Assessment is carried out the following general guidelines will guide schools examining and assessing students with Asperger syndrome (AS):

  • Consider allowing the student additional time for coursework and assignments.
  • Advise the student when the work done is good enough, and of sufficient quantity: perfectionism is a trait of AS. Give clear, constructive feedback to avoid causing anxiety (for example, explaining explicitly that a mark of 76% is a good mark).
  • Avoid assessing by oral presentation if this is unnecessary: students with AS may have difficulty with such presentations (if presentations are used, they should normally be assessed for ideas, knowledge and ability to address problems, and issues with style, such as speaking too fast, should be discounted).
  • Ensure that the student is very clear about what is expected and the amount of time it is advisable to spend on each section of an exam.

Students with other disabilities

This might include students with multiple sclerosis, head injury or a difficulty with fine co-ordination. Evidence will usually be required from an external agency with detailed knowledge of the student's condition. DSAS will examine the evidence and make recommendations to the Exams team for appropriate arrangements for assessment which may include:

  • accessible venue
  • appropriate position in exam room
  • use of a small room
  • supervised breaks - usually with a recommendation that the student takes the exam in a separate room
  • extra time
  • orthopaedic seating
  • use of a scribe.

Assessment support

There are a number of types of support which are commonly used during exams. They may also be appropriate in some types of school-based assessments. This should be made clear in the Needs Assessment.

Human aids to communication

Interpreters or lipspeakers in exams will interpret only the instructions of the invigilator if these cannot be given to the student in writing.

Interpreters and lipspeakers may not interpret or clarify examination questions, as language modification should have been formally completed in advance of the examination.

Interpreters or lipspeakers may be used in aural or oral exams to repeat materials from audio or video recordings so that the hearing impaired candidate is able to access the information.

Candidates who have difficulties with speech may use a lipspeaker or interpreter to voice over the candidate's responses or presentations. If a support worker is used, a time allowance for preparation with the lipspeaker will be given.

Scribe or reader

There are three types of scribe or reader. Schools should clearly indicate the exam task so that the most appropriate can be recommended.  

  • Amanuensis - writes down every word
  • Transcriber - re-writes the text and would usually only be recommended for students who use BSL
  • Reader - reads the questions only. 

Word processing

If a student is unable to hand write they may be given permission to word process their answers. The aim is not to give any advantage to the student so they may not:

  • access material stored in a memory
  • access spell check (unless dictionaries are permitted in the exam)
  • access calculation facilities (unless calculators are permitted)
  • use an operating manual

No additional time will be given unless it has been specifically requested on a doctor's note.

Special consideration will not be given if the student makes operational mistakes or if there are technical problems with the machine, unless proof is provided (for example, if an engineer is called).

After the candidate's script has been sent to the examiner the answers must be deleted from the machine. The hard copy must be the only record of the candidate's paper.