JCQ say no to consultation on Access Arrangements at present


Over the past two years the EOA exam officer community have experienced an increase in requests for Access Arrangements. In collaboration with the Association of Colleges a survey was actioned to address the concerns by centres, and the results of the survey was shared with all the major stakeholders, including members of the ACF who oversee the JCQ document that covers - Access Arrangements, Reasonable Adjustments and Special Consideration.


The EOA then requested that Ofqual should follow up on these findings and they initiated a number of meetings with key stakeholders (including ACF, SENCos, school leaders, exam officers, JCQ and exam boards) to explore:

  • reasons behind trends in statistics for reasonable adjustments (particularly extra time)
  • different patterns of reasonable adjustments made in different centre types – including centres that seemingly make no adjustments at all
  • effectiveness and appropriateness of the process for determining arrangements for students – and of the associated JCQ documentation

The responses were listed by Ofqual under two headings. Feedback from SENCOs and from School and College leaders, and also captured the 300 plus responses, while not referenced specifically by Ofqual, from the combined EOA - Association of Colleges survey on Access Arrangements in 2016.

  • Their role is difficult because of:
  • The volume of requests
  • The constant changes to the JCQ guidance, without consultation

Terracotta Booklet - Access Arrangements and Reasonable Adjustments

2014/2015 JCQ changes to Access Arrangements (111 pages, with 100 changes on 60 pages)

2015/2016 JCQ changes to Access Arrangements (111 pages with 124 changes on 74 pages)

2016/2017 JCQ changes to Access Arrangements (110 pages with 151 changes on 63 pages)

(EOA source)

  • The time at which the JCQ changes are announced – they do not have time to understand the changes before the start of the year
  • The JCQ book is hard to follow and to keep up with the changes – although strong support for one book for all exam boards
  • No summary of requirements for senior staff to read
  • Confusion about JCQ book’s status – is it regulatory?
  • Lack of clarity about the qualifications SENCOs must have to meet JCQ’s requirements – and how can the requirement be justified (costly)?
  • FE colleges have to start again to build a case
  • FE colleges – the GCSE re-takes policy has greatly increased the number of students needing adjustments. Lack time to identify the students in need and to test them. Little input from feeder schools
  • Difficulties accommodating the number of students having adjustments – and costly to do so. Extra time is one of the easier adjustments to make
  • Pressure from parents to make adjustments
  • Lack of understanding that reasonable adjustments are for disabled students   - legal entitlement

However, despite the clear evidence that this Access Arrangements process needs to be reviewed and the documentation that supports this process, the request by Ofqual to the JCQ and its awarding body members was rejected, and considered as not being a priority for them at present.


Maybe if the JCQ had attended this very important meeting they would have seen the anger, frustration and disbelief on the faces of the ACF group who had made their way to Coventry to support and collaborate on these very important JCQ processes and practices. Sadly, the point is being missed. This is not about whether the exams officer community is ignored or  the wider disability groups being seen as trying to in some way to manipulate the system to further their agenda as was suggested in the meeting.


The fact remains. A system that has served us well is no longer fit for purpose. Practices have moved on. Technology has moved on, but the culture in which the exam system has to operate has not, despite government legislation.  The very rules and guidelines that were put in place to serve and support this sector are being torn apart by changing need and demand within centres.


The AFC was set up to consult, debate and share on Access Arrangements. Everyone is there to offer help, advice and support to the JCQ and its exam body members because we all acknowledge what a difficult and sensitive area this is, and what a poison chalice it must seem at times.


The EOA community have tried to highlight the need to address this issue before a disaster befalls the system and everyone, including the JCQ and its members is forced into implementing change without fully understanding the long-term consequences.


It is this very point that sits at the heart of ACF’s concern over the present JCQ documentation. Changes, which are often needed and appropriate, are inserted into JCQ documents year-on-year without really considering the full consequences they have across the whole education and exam system.


However, these concerns will never be addressed through an exam body rhetoric which only focuses on their exam protocols and ignore key requests from within the teaching and learning community which this exam system is supposed to be serving.


We all need a solid JCQ structure in place, but it needs to do what it says on the tin and represent all the exam body practice and procedures, if it is to be supported effectively by all stakeholders, so some centres cannot use individual differences in exam body practice to undermine or manipulate the system as was suggested at the recent AFC meeting by the JCQ representative.  


But there was some light at the end of the tunnel in this meeting. It was suggested that, would it not be a good idea to introduce a series of appendixes with updates, so core information and guidance listed on a year-to-year would not be mixed up with updates, so avoiding the present confusion, and to give targeted information to the centres that really needed it.


This excellent idea mentioned in passing by the JCQ representative at the end of this discussion is something the EOA have been championing for years and if this is but a small step before any major overhaul in this process does take place, at least it is a start, and would help so many centres right now come to terms with the tsunami of information being thrown at them at present.


So, let’s hope If we can take these small steps, under a more collaborative culture, all the education and exams community can benefit, especially the students in whose future we hold in our hands .