Exam access for students with vision impairment: case study

Post date: 
Monday, 13 March 2017
Students sitting an exam

Anna Pilson and Simon Kerrigan, both QTVIs, provide an overview of how an exam series was organised at Tapton Secondary School in Sheffield for candidates with vision impairment – the two students described are members of the integrated resource unit at the school.

Meet Yanko and Jerri
Yanko and Jerri are Year 11 pupils. Yanko is a braillist and Jerri is a large print user. Yanko uses uncontracted braille (written letter by letter), which is not the standard format available, so it is critical his papers are requested as soon as possible from the exam board. Yanko uses a laptop or Perkins brailler to record his answers and is entitled to up to 100 per cent extra time, a reader and practical assistant in some exams. Jerri is entitled to 25 per cent additional time and uses size 24 bold font on A4 exam papers if possible, or size 18 bold on A4 with a magnifier if not. She records her answers using a mixture of handwriting, an iPad or a laptop. Both students are academically at the same level as their peers and are predicted to achieve at least five grade A* to C.
Both pupils are due to sit their GCSEs in summer 2017, but they sat a core science GCSE in summer 2016. The school builds in an annual formal examination week for each year group, which meant that Yanko and Jerri were able to practice their access arrangements in Year 9 and 10 before sitting their first external exam. This experience will feed into plans for their mock GCSEs and final exam series.

By building in access arrangements from an early opportunity, we are able to make sure the optimal conditions for effective access are achieved. Also, by testing arrangements we have been able to assess what an adequate amount of extra time is for both pupils and establish that it was necessary for Yanko to have a practical assistant to support his level of tactile skills.

Mainstream teacher feedback

“It is important for all children to be given the skills to be independent learners, so I have built into my lessons the opportunity to teach study skills. At first I was concerned about how Yanko and Jerri were going to access their revision, so I have been working closely with their QTVI so they can advise me how best to proceed. It is important that they have plenty of opportunity to use real exam materials. Past papers are a crucial part of the course, so it’s great both Yanko and Jerri can use real modified papers”.

Exams officer feedback

"It's really useful that the QTVI organises the ordering of papers, because their specialist knowledge ensures that students receive them in the right format. By working so closely together and trying to implement all the access arrangements over a longer period of time, it helps me to understand the needs of pupils so I can automatically build this in when planning rooming and staffing. It also helps to iron out any problems before the real exams. For example a room being too dark or a Wi-Fi blackspot, causing the pupil's technology to not work properly".

Pupil feedback

Yanko said: "Because I have a lot of extra time I can get very tired. One of my exams in my mocks was four and a half hours long! It's good that I get to practice because I can get used to working for such a long time. I also get used to working with a reader, so that I know exactly what I can ask them to do."
Jerri said: "I use size 24 print in class, but when I tried the past papers before my science GCSE last summer I realised that I found it hard to use the A3 paper, so I tried size 18 on A4 paper. It wasn't quite as comfortable as the 24, but it was much easier for me to use. There was more space on my desk and I didn't have to scan the pages as much. And I can use my magnifier if I get tired. If we hadn't practised, I think I would have found it really difficult using A3 for the first time".

QTVI feedback

"It is hard to build in opportunities in the busy Key Stage 4 curriculum to develop extra curriculum skills, such as tactile and ICT skills, so it is crucial to utilise every opportunity from Key Stage 3 onwards to practice the skills they will need in the exams.
These skills could be as basic yet important as a braillist learning how best to mark-up quotations on a braille excerpt – for example, using Blu-Tack or Wikki Stix – developing stamina in working in a concentrated manner for a long period of time, or a large print user learning to scan text quickly and effectively to identify key information so as to avoid visual fatigue.
These skills not only support exam technique, but help students become independent learners. By taking a team approach, we can ensure that these pupils have equal opportunity to succeed as their sighted peers".

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