Equal access to examinations and qualifications forms an essential part of the entitlement of children and young people with vision impairment to high quality educational outcomes.

We offer some key points to consider when entering a blind or partially sighted learner for external exams.

We have made this short film with staff and pupils of Tapton School in Sheffield to explain how access arrangements for GCSE exams work.

Exam Access Arrangements

We've produced an Exam Access Arrangements Checklist which may be helpful when planning access arrangements and adjustments. Some Exam Access Arrangements FAQ can be found on the Sight Advice FAQ website.

With all access arrangements, the guiding principle is that a learner's exam experience should match as closely as possible the way they work every day. Consulting learners themselves is an essential way of making sure that this happens.

Exam Paper Provision for Braillists

Following feedback from the sector about inconsistent, difficult to source exam papers from exam boards in some cases, RNIB has met with Ofqual and exam boards and can confirm that for Braillists all exam boards will provide on request a Braille transcript in Word to accompany an electronic PDF and a hard copy Braille paper.  The latter must be ordered in order to receive the Braille transcript in Word. This is welcome news. 

Furthermore, exam boards have encouraged applications and communications from QTVIs, education professionals or exam centres to go direct to the modification teams to avoid any future confusion.  

Those direct email addresses are:

Choosing courses

Most courses are fully accessible to candidates with vision impairment. However, with some practical subjects or those involving inherently visual skills there may be some assessment requirements which a candidate may not be able to meet and for which alternative assessments will be complicated. It is important to check with awarding bodies and course providers before a learner starts a course whether this is likely to be the case and what impact this might have on the course and final grade.

Seeking specialist advice

Most visually impaired learners will receive specialist input from a qualified teacher of children with vision impairment (QTVI). It is important to consult the QTVI before deciding what access arrangements to request.

Modified papers

Awarding bodies offer a range of "standard" formats for modified papers in accessible formats. It is important to liaise with the QTVI and confirm which format is best suited to a learner's needs and not to order a format with which they are not familiar. If in doubt, you can work with the QTVI to order samples and past papers. You can find out more about the range of accessible formats in the Access arrangements and reasonable adjustments document produced by JCQ and updated annually. In 2020 the relevant section for vision impairment is in Chapter 6.

The "standard" list of accessible formats is not exhaustive and if you require something that is not on that list you should enter into a dialogue with the exam board as early as possible to find an alternative. 

The deadline for application for modified papers is earlier than that for other access arrangements in order to give awarding bodies the time to produce the papers in the formats requested. It is important to keep to these deadlines to guarantee that the papers can be produced in time. 

Modification and production of exam papers

Exams in accessible formats for general qualifications (GCSE, A-level etc) are produced in line with nationally agreed guidelines to make sure they are consistent in quality and style.

The guidance document is produced by the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ). It provides important information for anyone preparing students for external exams or producing practice exam material locally. Similar standards are followed in the production of SATs tests.

Download the latest Best Practice Guidance "Guidance for the modification and production of examination papers for candidates with a visual impairment” from UKAAF. (NB: the guidance is currently being finalised for 2020/21 and will be available in autumn 2020.)

New for 2022: Prepare for Success 

Education professionals can now enrol for a new online training resource from RNIB and VIEW to develop knowledge and understanding of the fundamental principles of modification and production used by awarding bodies for GCSE and GCE examination materials. 

Through studying genuine modifications, referring to best practice guidance, and completing practical exercises, the resource builds confidence for preparing in-house assessments that replicate the format of those used in formal testing.

More information can be found on our courses, training and networks page.

Well prepared

Make sure your school has a copy of Well Prepared! from RNIB Bookshare It is our definitive guide to modifying examination, assessment and curriculum materials for blind and partially sighted learners. It is important that school assessments and learning materials introduce the layout and modifications a blind or partially sighted child will use in public examinations.

Further information on access arrangements

General qualifications (GCSE etc)

Details of access arrangements are available in a publication called "Access Arrangements, Reasonable Adjustments and Special Consideration" which is updated each year and available to download on the Joint Council for Qualifications website.

For enquiries about specific access arrangements, contact JCQ on 020 7638 4132 or [email protected].

CCEA access arrangements (Northern Ireland)

For information about access arrangements for qualifications in Northern Ireland visit the Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment.

Scottish Qualifications Agency

For information about access arrangements for qualifications in Scotland, visit the Scottish Qualifications Agency.

Examination Officers

This website offers information that supports Exam Officers.

National Curriculum tests (SATs)

General information about assessment and reporting arrangements, including access arrangements, for Key Stages 1-2 is available on the Department for Education website.

Primary Assessment Gateway is the online booking system for testing arrangements.

Alternatively please contact National Curriculum Assessments Helpline on 0300 303 3013 or [email protected].

11+ and Cognitive Ability Tests

RNIB and GL Assessment, one of the UK’s leading independent test publishers, have developed user guidelines for schools, local authorities and VI services for decisions about the use of 11+ test papers for pupils with vision impairment. These guidelines will also be useful to anyone interested in making cognitive ability tests (e.g. CAT) accessible to children with vision impairment. Download the guidelines and a case study about making reasonable adjustments for pupils with vision impairment from the GL Assessment website.

Revision Guides

RNIB is currently producing a range of accessible revision guides, a much-needed resource for students with vision impairment.  Core subjects are being produced in turn and will be available in Grade 2 UEB (with tactile images) and Structured Word – Arial 14 with a layout for easy navigation, with diagram descriptions.

Guides will be available to download from RNIB Bookshare