A leading dyslexia charity says that thousands of dyslexic students are being disadvantaged because of changes to access arrangements for GCSEs and A levels.
In the past few years, high-performing pupils with dyslexia have had some of their special arrangements, such as being given extra time in which to complete examinations, taken away following criticisms from some that this was unfair on other candidates.
Dyslexia Action is involved in an on-going discussion with the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) to have the access arrangements reinstated, claiming that the condition poses greater problems for young people than just with reading. These include problems with organisation, mathematics and memory which can result in slow reading, writing and information processing.
Although dyslexia does not affect intelligence it can put an individual at a serious disadvantage in exams, which test reading, comprehension, memory recall and written response, within a set period of time.
Kevin Geeson, CEO of Dyslexia Action, said: “Dyslexia is a recognised disability under the Equalities Act 2010. Therefore, examination access arrangements, such as extra time, are in place to ensure a level playing field.
“It is wrong to undermine the achievements of a young dyslexic person by saying their extra time gives them an advantage over other students – particularly when the dyslexic student has had to work twice or 10 times harder to be able to demonstrate their knowledge of the subject being examined, compared to their non-dyslexic peers.”
Mr Geeson said there remained “a lot of confusion” around the access arrangements for examinations.
He continued: “Our main concern is that the JCQ’s regulations will only allow for students who have considerable disability and adjustments will only be made for those who are way below the average equivalent.
“Dyslexia affects different individuals differently and severity can vary greatly. We are therefore worried that this could pose considerable threat to those students who are above average in ability but still need exam access arrangements to ensure they are not disadvantaged compared to their peers. It is the impact of such a disability on an individual’s capability that needs to be the focus.”
He added that a lack of understanding of the challenges faced by dyslexics left them “under suspicion of cheating”.
Michael Turner, the JCQ’s director, said: “We agree that candidates who meet the criteria for access arrangements should not be labelled as having an unfair advantage.
“Access arrangements include a variety of options including coloured overlays, supervised rest breaks, use of word-processors and, in extreme cases, extra-time, readers and scribes. In developing these arrangements, JCQ engages with a wide range of key stakeholders to ensure that the process remains fair to all candidates and is consistently applied.
“To achieve a level playing field, it is essential that extra time is only provided to those who meet strict criteria. As such, it cannot be awarded to candidates with a high IQ and who have processing speeds well within the national average.”