Inclusivity is a cornerstone of Priestnall School’s ethos – and that extends to securing the correct access arrangements and reasonable adjustments when it comes to exams
“It’s our job to make sure that assessment gives everyone an equal chance at success, based on their need and their normal way of working,” says Gareth Morewood, Director of Curriculum Support (SENCo) at Priestnall School and Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Manchester. “We’ve had a child in a power wheelchair doing a PE GCSE, a student who spoke through a pre-loaded dynavox taking an oral French language GCSE exam, and another girl with cerebral palsy doing a hospitality course where making a bed with perfectly turned down corners was a key requirement – something she was physically unable to do.
“To demonstrate attainment fairly, it’s crucial that eligible students are able to take advantage of the access arrangements that they are entitled to. Exact helps ensure we are as thorough as possible in securing the right adjustments.”
With 1250 students aged 11 to 16, Priestnall is a large comprehensive secondary school in the North West of England. It is an inclusive community school that works closely in partnership with the local authority, Inscape House School and the Together Trust to support students on the autistic spectrum into its mainstream provision.
“We want to make sure no student is placed at a disadvantage in exams as a consequence of the challenges they face. However, every child and situation is unique – allowances for access arrangements, including extra time, a reader and supervised rest breaks, and a child could be entitled to any number of these.
We also have to allow for the unpredictable – such as breaking an arm, a sudden bereavement or mental health needs that develop over time.”
“In reality, access arrangements can be complex so they require a whole school approach. To build up a history of need, support and provision, we start by screening Year 7 and 8 with LASS.” LASS is a computerised assessment for pupils of all abilities that enables teachers to identify students with dyslexia or other literacy issues.
The school then uses Exact in Year 9 or 10 as needed. Exact is a suite of standardised tests in speeded word recognition, reading speed, reading comprehension speed, spelling, handwriting speed, and typing speed. This helps satisfy requirements for exam access arrangements via JCQ (the membership organisation that comprises the seven largest providers of qualifications in the UK).
“The more efficient we are, the more likely we can secure the right access for our students to enjoy equality of assessment. Exact is very easy and cost-effective to use, yet produces immediate, graphical, detailed output which is as useful for conversations with carers and parents as it is to meet JCQ requirements.”
Gareth continues: “We have a specialist teacher qualified to do the access arrangements, who uses Exact to help assess and apply for reasonable adjustments.
“Children are used to doing things on computers, so assessing in this way means we can be sure that it is a true reflection of ability and it’s a very time efficient way of working. Access arrangement applications now take us an average of six hours per student. Without Exact, I’d estimate it would take at least five times as long.”
The challenges students face may be diverse, but the school is committed to ensuring barriers to a fair assessment aren’t one of them. “Many children in similar situations to our students are not in mainstream schools. However, our approach means we can be proactive in our support and ensure students are allowed the access arrangements they are entitled to in a cost effective way.
“Now that there will be increased rigour in GCSEs, it’s even more important to achieve equal chances for our students. Some schools don’t apply for any allowances at all, but our system means all children who are entitled to access arrangements or reasonable adjustments, get them.”