Background to the SEND Service 

In the past most SEND students were supported within specialist schools and colleges and did not engage generally with the mainstream public exam system. All that changed with the closing of a number of specialist centres, and the policy of greater integration of this community into mainstream education establishments. The exams system, orchestrated and managed through the JCQ, created a process to help support the engagement of these students and this was called Access Arrangements - ref:http://www.jcq.org.uk/exams-office/access-arrangements-and-special-consideration.

This process supported by the JCQ guidance documents, which have become the industry standard on exam delivery across the UK and abroad who take British resourced examinations. However, when this process was set up originally, there were fewer SEND students doing public exams and because the exam system is set up to cater for the majority of the non SEND student population concerns over support and access to the exam system were very small.

Recent legislation following on the back of the 2010 Equality act has precipitated extensive changes in JCQ documentation over the past two years to try and meet the needs of all SEND students. Secondly, more SEND students have had to engage with the public exam system because of the recent government policy on stating that every student must pass GCSE English and Maths if they are to progress in the education system.

Thirdly, the present public exam system related to general qualifications is ‘paper driven’ and until the development of a range of Assistive Technology (AT) was a barrier to many SEND students. In conjunction with the historic JCQ documentation on exams delivery, teaching staff were discouraged from promoting AT which could be used under exam conditions in their classroom practice.

The practice, referenced by the JCQ for many years in its documentation as ‘the normal way of working’ has therefore never been embraced by many mainstream centres, while those still in specialist schools and colleges have benefited from this approach. To reduce workload and encourage greater comparability in exams body responses to individual requests a JCQ online system was set up to help process the growing demand for AAs.

The whole AA process signed off by the JCQ has always been based upon supportive evidence of need for each individual student, around their ‘normal way of working’ within their centre. This evidence was then checked by JCQ inspectors in their annual visits to centres but a portion of AA related activity was handed over to the centre to be managed internally.

Combining all these factors with the introduction of a single summer exam session has stimulated a rapid rise in requests for AA. As AA have always been associated with the public exam system, especially around ‘high stakes’ exams, some have interpreted the use of AA as some form of process to gain an advantage for certain students who are very much on the edge of the SEND spectrum.

In this context some feel the whole AA process is being brought into disrepute and that some students may very well lose out because of funding constraints and/or more hurdles will be raised through JCQ practice that reduces further access to the public exam system for students who really do need additional help.

The problem facing mainstream centres is that they do not always have specialist staff and experience ‘on tap’ to deal with various individualistic needs on an adhoc basis. This SEND Service calls upon the expertise of specialists to help support exams office staff and their delivery teams in their decision making, so all students can access the public exam system more effectively.