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RNIB-backed legal action means schools must ensure accessible entrance exams

It should now be easier for children with vision impairments to access school entrance exams in accessible formats, after the results of a legal challenge, supported by RNIB and the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), clarified who is responsible for providing them.

Rows of students sitting at tables, doing an exam.

We’ve long been concerned about the accessibility of 11-plus examinations for children with vision impairment, and regularly receive enquiries from parents and professionals regarding the process of testing for grammar schools, and how to ensure the tests are accessible.

When RNIB heard about this case, we supported the family to take it forward, hoping that it would bring clarity for all children with vision impairment.

What the case was about

A boy with vision impairment couldn’t sit an entry exam to a Berkshire grammar school when the adjustments his parents had requested weren’t made.

The boy’s parents had applied to Reading School, but he was due to sit the exam at a different school that was also part of the Slough Consortium of Grammar Schools. The day before the exam, the school said it couldn’t make the requested adjustments, including larger fonts on the exam paper, saying it was too expensive.

After the case, the boy’s mother said: “As someone who grew up with a severe vision impairment myself, I’ve hugely benefitted from a supportive learning environment, and that’s all I want for my children.

“When my son heard he was unable to sit the exam [he] was upset and in tears, particularly as he had worked hard to prepare for them.

“On receiving the Tribunal decision, we were left with mixed feelings. On the one hand we were happy with the outcome, but we were equally disappointed that we’d had to bring a claim of discrimination to get justice for our son.

“We’re grateful for the support we’ve received but challenging a process that is both arduous and unequal for children with special educational needs is inherently unfair, and the whole experience has left us fatigued and disappointed.

“Fortunately, my son started at grammar school last week and is settling in brilliantly. It’s now our hope that other grammar schools ensure their entry exams are accessible to all children, and that other parents of disabled children don’t experience the frustration and barriers that we did.”

What this means for other children with vision impairment

It’s now much clearer that the school the child is applying to is responsible for providing the reasonable adjustments required under the Equality Act 2010. In the past, there has been confusion about whether this responsibility sat with the school the child was applying to, the exam centre or the primary school. Now parents will know exactly who to speak to about adjustments.

RNIB has written to the Association of Grammar Schools and 11-plus providers, to ensure this year’s entry exams are accessible. And the EHRC has contacted all grammar schools and other selective schools, to remind them of their duty under the Equality Act 2010 not to discriminate against any disabled children.

Caireen Sutherland, RNIB Principal Education Officer, explained:

"We hope that this decision will go some way to ensuring that grammar schools now make appropriate arrangements so that everyone, including children with vision impairment, has equal access to the tests."

"We are keen to work with schools and 11-plus providers to ensure the provision is in place and accessible.”

Caireen Sutherland, RNIB Principal Education Officer

For information and advice on education for children and young people, contact our Children, Young People and Families Service.