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Exam Support

If your child has special educational needs they may be able to have extra support when sitting tests and exams. This includes SATS, GCSEs and A Levels.

This extra support is sometimes called Access Arrangements. This is different from Special Consideration. Special Consideration is when something unexpected happens that affects a child on the day of their exam such as a temporary illness, injury or a family event.

Access Arrangements are about making reasonable adjustments to exam conditions so that a child or young person with special educational needs is not at a disadvantage compared with others. The rules are different depending on the type of exam. This extra support aims to meet the needs of a child without affecting the value of the exam.

The school must apply to have some exam support or tell the testing agency about their plans in the months before the exam or test takes place. For some tests the support can be arranged by the school with very little notice. Exam support can include things like extra time, having an adult write for your child, or rest breaks.

Well before any exams or test is due to happen, ask your child’s teacher or SENCO about whether and how your child will be supported.

Key stage 1 SATs are taken at the end of year 2 and Key stage 2 SATs are taken at the end of year 6. You can find videos and booklets about the tests on the website.

Support for these tests is based mainly on the support your child would usually get in the classroom and it isn’t allowed to give your child an unfair advantage. 

When planning for the tests, school staff should be thinking about the needs of their pupils and whether they normally get any extra support in lessons. For SATS taken in year 6, your child’s teacher may need to apply to have extra support in advance and include evidence that shows your child’s needs, such as assessment reports or an EHC plan.

These are some of the types of support schools could use for SATs:

  • extra time to take the tests
  • having an adult (usually a teaching assistant) write things down
  • having an adult read for your child – this does not include the English reading test where only the general instructions can be read out
  • being able to use a word processor or other technical or electronic aids
  • rest breaks
  • taking the test somewhere else other than school
  • compensatory marks for spelling – this is support for children who can’t take the spelling test, such as those who are hearing impaired
  • making transcripts – this is where a child’s answers are written out neatly by an adult and both copies are sent to the exam board
  • written or oral translations – these are for children without English as a first language who have been in the UK for less than two years
  • the use of prompts – this is for children who find it hard to focus well without help

For key stage 2 SATS, if your child has an EHC plan or uses a modified large print (MLP) or braille versions of the tests they should automatically get extra time to take the tests.

If your child is waiting for an EHC plan to be confirmed, then they may also be able to have extra time, but their teacher will need to apply for it.

For your child to get extra support for these exams, the SENCo (Special Educational Needs Coordinator) at your child’s school or college usually needs to apply for it before the exams start. The deadlines vary each year, but it’s usually around January or February for summer exams and tests.    

The SENCo will need to show evidence that your child needs the extra support. As with SATS, the support your child gets is usually like the support they get in the classroom, and the way they normally work. Ideally the SENCo will collect this information from year 7 including anything that has been passed on from previous schools. 

These are some of the kinds of extra support that school or college can give:

  • rest breaks – these are always supervised
  • extra time to take the exam
  • a computer reader or an adult to read the questions
  • being able to read aloud and/or use an exam reading pen
  • having an adult to write things down for you or use speech recognition technology
  • using a word processor to write with
  • a sign language interpreter
  • practical assistant
  • taking the exams somewhere else other than school
  • Braille, enlarged or coloured exam papers
  • making transcripts – where a child’s answers are written out neatly by an adult and both copies are sent to the exam board
  • written or oral translations – these are for children without English as a first language who have been in the UK for less than two years
  • the use of prompts – this is for children who find it hard to focus well without help

Your child is unlikely to need all of these. The kind of support your child might get will depend on their specific needs. For example, if your child has autism, they may need rest breaks and extra time or to take the exam somewhere other than where everyone else is taking it. Whereas if your child has a specific learning difficulty such as dyslexia, they may need to use a word processor to write with, a computer reader or a coloured copy of the exam paper.

For certain subjects some arrangements are not allowed, for example if the exam is testing reading then a reader may not be allowed. Some types of support may not work well for some subjects, so for example, using a word processor may not be helpful for a maths exam. Your child would still be able to use these types of support in other exams if they need to.

If your child has an injury, has a disability diagnosed or develops a learning difficulty after the deadline for applying for extra support has passed, they may still get support. The SENCo can make a late application and whether extra support can be given is decided for each young person, based on their individual needs.

A girl with ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) has persistent difficultly concentrating and has poor working memory. Supervised rest breaks and the use of a prompter, who may need to physically show her where on a page she had been working in order to re-start her work, could be reasonable adjustments.

A young person with dyslexia needs to use a coloured overlay and a word processor and needs 25% extra time. The use of a yellow coloured overlay is a reasonable adjustment as it helps him to improve his reading accuracy. The use of a word processor is a reasonable adjustment since it is his normal means of producing written work.

A young person with a severe vision impairment needs 50% extra time in order to read the enlarged text papers. In papers involving complex layout and diagrams she also needs a practical assistant and a reader to work under her instruction to find information.

A young man with Autism has persistent and significant difficulties with handwriting, which is poor but not illegible. He is unable to finish his mock English, Geography and Religious Studies papers within the time allowed. In other subjects he finishes the mock papers before the end of the test. He is given 25% extra time for the exams he sits for those GCSE subjects.

A young lady with a persistent and significant difficulty with memorising spoken language needs repetition. She is given 25% extra time as she reads and processes information substantially slower than her peers.  

More information for professionals can be found in the Joint Council for Qualifications access arrangements and reasonable adjustments guidance 2022-23