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What do Access Arrangements mean for SENCOs?

Changes to national curriculum, national assessment and examination reform and the implementation of the new SEND legislation have placed a great deal of additional pressure on schools. SENCOs especially have found their work-load increased, both from requirements from local authorities but also from supporting other members of staff to enable them to meet the individual needs of all their pupils.

Changes to Access Arrangements have been one of the biggest challenges for SENCOs in recent years – the need to ensure that “the normal way of working” is implemented before Year 9 has meant SENCOs working closely with teachers and support staff to ensure that these arrangements are in place in those subjects where the pupil requires additional support.

The key to establishing the “normal way of working” is to undertake effective assessments to ascertain a baseline for each pupil in order to set-up strategies to support individual needs.

Access Arrangements 2015 – 2016

Access arrangements require a whole school approach. The head of centre, SLT, the SENCO, Specialist Assessors and the SEN Governor should familiarise themselves with the JCQ document Adjustments for candidates with disabilities and learning difficulties – Access Arrangements and Reasonable Adjustments”.

The SENCO, supported by teaching staff and SLT, must lead on the access arrangements within their centre.

JCQ state that, “Ideally, the SENCO will also be the in-house specialist assessor and will thus assess candidates, process applications online and hold the evidence for inspection purposes for GCSE qualifications”.

The SENCO must ensure that approved access arrangements are in place for school tests, mock examinations and examinations.

In order for this role to be undertaken effectively schools must ensure that the SENCO is fully trained and has the appropriate qualifications in order to undertake these tasks.


Access Arrangements are agreed before an assessment. They allow students with SEND or temporary injuries to access the assessment and show what they know and can do without changing the demands of the assessment.

Reasonable adjustments are what an awarding body has to make under the Equality Act 2010 for those students who are disabled within the meaning of the act and who would be at a substantial disadvantage in comparison to someone who is not disabled. An example would be the provision of a Braille paper for a vision impaired person who could read Braille. A reasonable adjustment may be unique to an individual and may not be included in the list of available access arrangements.


The purpose of an access arrangement is to ensure, where possible, that barriers to assessment are removed for a disabled candidate preventing him/her from being placed at a substantial disadvantage as a consequence of persistent and significant difficulties.

Normal way of working

The arrangement(s) put in place must reflect the support given to the candidate in the centre, eg:

  • In the classroom or
  • Working in small groups or reading and/or writing or
  • Literacy support lessons or
  • Literacy intervention strategies and/or
  • Internal tests and mock examinations

It is very important that schools ensure that students are given information and advice on their selected qualifications in an accessible format and are satisfied that the qualifications will meet their needs. The school must also assess the student in order to make justifiable and professional judgements about the learner’s potential to complete and achieve the qualification. The assessment must also identify, if appropriate, the support that will be made available to the student to facilitate access to the qualification.

Access arrangements should be decided at the start of a course and they must be approved before an examination.

The key principle is that the SENCO or the specialist assessor can show a history of support and provision. The SENCO and/or the specialist assessor must work with teaching staff, support staff and exams office personnel to ensure that approved access arrangements are put in place for internal tests, mock examinations and examinations.

All schools will be inspected by a member of JCQ Centre Inspection Service and they will expect to see appropriate documentation to substantiate the use of an access arrangement that has been applies for. The SENCO must ensure that this documentation is completed and made available to the JCQ Centre Inspector.

Supervised rest breaks

There is no requirement to process an application for the use of supervised rest breaks but the SENCO must produce written evidence confirming the need for supervised rest breaks if requested by a JCQ Centre Inspector. This will confirm the students established difficulties and that supervised rest breaks reflect their normal way of working. SENCOs should always consider supervised rest breaks before making an application for extra time.

The decision about the maximum time set for supervised rest breaks will be determined by the SENCO, based on their knowledge of the student’s normal way of working. This should be determined before the start of the examination series. There may be constraints on timing if the student has more than one examination each day.

This will also have implications for where the student undertakes the examination as supervised rest breaks may disturb other students. In turn this will impact on the number of invigilators that are required.

25% extra time

25% extra time for GCSE and GCE must be applied for prior to the first examination. In order to award 25% extra time the school must assess the needs of the student based on one of the following documents:

  • A statement of SEN relating to secondary education or an EHCP, which confirms the candidates disability or
  • An assessment carried out no earlier than the start of Year 9 by a specialist assessor confirming a learning difficulty relating to secondary/further education.

As we move to the transfer of statements to EHCPs it would be helpful if any arrangements required by a student to access education and examinations are very clearly written in section F of an EHCP.

It would also appear to be sensible for the SENCO or a member of their team to be the specialist assessor as this role is key in ensuring that all the assessments, evidence and documentation are managed by a person who knows and understands the student’s needs.

The specialist assessors report must confirm that the student has at least one below average standardised score of 84 or less which relates to an assessment of:

  • Speed of reading or
  • Speed of reading comprehension or
  • Speed of writing or
  • Cognitive processing measures which have a substantial and long term adverse effect on speed of working

Where a student has complex needs which have a substantial and long term adverse effect on his/her speed of processing, appropriate evidence of need must be available at the school for inspection. These are students with:

  • Communication and Interaction Needs or
  • Sensory and/or Physical Needs or
  • Social, Mental and Emotional Needs

Substantial Impairment – Evidence of Need

The school’s evidence, written by the SENCO must:

  • Confirm that the student has persistent and significant difficulties when accessing and processing information and is disabled within the meaning of the Equality Act 2010
  • Include evidence of the student’s current difficulties and how they substantially impact on teaching and learning in the classroom;
  • Show the involvement of teaching staff in determining the need for 25% extra time
  • Confirm that without the 25% extra time the student would be at a substantial disadvantage when compared with other, non-disabled students undertaking the examination
  • Confirm that 25% extra time is the candidate’s normal way of working within the school as a direct consequence of their disability.

This evidence could be supported by a number of other documents including:

  • A letter from CAMHS, a HCPC registered psychologist, a hospital consultant a psychiatrist
  • A letter from the Local Authority Specialist Service, Local Authority Sensory Impairment Service, Occupational Health Service
  • A letter from a Speech and Language Therapist
  • A statement of SEN relating to the student’s secondary education or an EHCP which confirms the student’s disability.

An exceptional arrangement can be made for students requiring more than 25% extra time. The SENCO would be required to have all the relevant evidence as above for those students with standardised scores of 69 or less.

Computer reader/Reader

The SENCO should decide if the student requires computer software which accurately reads out text but does not decode or interpret the paper or a responsible adult who will act as a reader and who can read the instructions on the question paper and the questions for the student. Whichever is used it should be the normal way of working within school and therefore if using computer software the student should have had sufficient time and training in order to use the software effectively.

A computer reader or a reader will only be allowed if  a candidate has:

  • Language and vocabulary difficulties which have a substantial and long-term adverse effect on his/her ability to access written text; or
  • A substantial and long term vision impairment and cannot read a Braille paper or a modified enlarged paper independently, or at sufficient speed even with extra time allowed.

For those students with complex needs which have a substantial and long term adverse effect on his/her speed of processing, appropriate evidence of need, similar to that identified for 25% extra time, must be available at the school for inspection


SENCOs need to be aware that a student using a computer reader/reader may also need 25% extra time because working with a reader may slow them down. Consideration also has to be given to where the student is sitting to take the examination as a reader could distract other students. There are also staffing implications to ensure there are enough responsible, trained adults to undertake this role as well as having an invigilator in every room that is being used.

Scribe/Speech recognition technology

A scribe is a responsible adult who, in controlled assessment, coursework and/or in an examination writes down or word processes a student’s dictated answers to the questions. The student could dictate answers on to a tape and a responsible adult must write down or word process the candidate’s dictated answers to the questions.

Alternatively the student can use a word processor with the spelling and grammar check facility enabled, a word processor with predictive text/spelling/grammar check facility enabled, speech recognition technology with predictive text where the student dictates into a word processor or computer software, producing speech, which is used to dictate to a scribe.

There are exceptions to the use of this type of technology and students will not have access to marks awarded for spelling, punctuation and grammar.

For students with complex needs who have an impairment that has a substantial and long term adverse effect on their writing or a student who cannot write, type or Braille independently or at a sufficient speed even with extra time, the SENCO should have appropriate evidence of need, similar to that identified above and this must be available at the school for inspection.


Word Processor

Schools are allowed to provide a word processor with the spelling and grammar check facility/predictive text disabled to a student where it is their normal way of working and is appropriate to their needs.



A transcript is an exact copy of the student’s script which is made after the examination has taken place and without the participation of the student. This could be used when a student has a temporary injury which may result in their handwriting being difficult to decipher or if the use of a word processor is not appropriate.



A prompter may be permitted where a candidate has a substantial and long term adverse impairment resulting in persistent distractibility or significant difficulty in concentrating. The prompter can keep the student focused on the need to answer a question and then move on to the next one.



In exceptional circumstances the following may also be applied:

  • Oral Language Modifier
  • Live speaker for pre-recorded examination components
  • Sign Language Interpreter
  • Practical Assistant
  • Alternative site for the conduct of examinations
  • Exemptions
  • Bilingual translation dictionaries with up to a maximum of 25% extra time


Schools may also have other arrangements that they use as normal way of working which might support a student’s individual needs. These might include:

  • Amplification equipment
  • Braillers
  • Closed circuit television
  • Colour naming by invigilator for candidates who are colour blind
  • Coloured overlays
  • Low vision aid/magnifier
  • Optical Character Reader scanners
  • Separate invigilation within the centre.


Modified Papers

Modified papers must be ordered in advance of a specific examination series, they are individually prepared for students for whom other access arrangements are unsuitable.

The standard formats available are:

  • A4 modified 18 point bold
  • A3 modified 24 bold
  • Braille papers and tactile diagrams with Braille labels
  • Modified language
  • Non-interactive electronic (PDF) question paper
  • Tactile diagrams with print labels
  • Transcript of listening test/video


Specialist Assessors

The head of school is responsible for:

  • The quality of the access arrangements process within his or her centre and
  • The appointment of specialist assessors

A specialist assessor is a teacher with a current SpLD Assessment Practicing Certificate or an appropriately qualified psychologist registered with the Health and Care Professions Council.

In addition to these two categories, other educational professionals may conduct access arrangements if they hold a post-graduate qualification in individual specialist assessment at or equivalent to Level 7 which must include training in a number of specific elements.

Ideally the specialist assessor should be employed within the school but alternately they might be employed at another school, employed by the local authority or be an external assessor who has established a relationship with the school before an assessment takes place.



It is the SENCO’s responsibility to make the final decision about which access arrangements are going to be applied for and used based on the student’s needs and their normal way of working. These decisions should be undertaken after discussions with the student, their parents and school teaching and non-teaching staff who have responsibility for the student.

Time frame for access arrangements for 2015 – 2016


Month of examination


Access arrangement


November 2015

Modified papers

20 September 2015


November 2015

All other access arrangements

4 October 2015


May/June 2016

Modified papers

31 January 2016


May/June 2016

All other access arrangements

21 March  2016



Lorraine Petersen,

SEN Consultant and former Chief Executive of nasen 

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