Fears have been raised that some GCSE students have unfairly received extra time in their exams under rules designed for SEN children.
Exams watchdog Ofqual is concerned about a 12 per cent increase in approved requests for extra time since 2009/10 and has written to exams officers to clarify what is allowed.
Special access arrangements are designed for students with special needs or disabilities and usually allow up to 25 per cent more time to complete the exam, or other concessions such as the use of a reader or a scribe.
In the last academic year, around 237,000 requests for special access arrangements were granted. This included 123,200 requests for extra time, which is a 12 per cent rise from 2009/10 when there were 109,800 approved requests.
In the letter, Fiona Pethick, director of regulation at Ofqual, writes: “We are concerned that some centres have given extra time to candidates who are not disabled. If the system of timed exams and other assessments is to be fair, extra time must only be given to disabled candidates or in a limited number of cases, to candidates who have a short-term injury or illness which affects the speed with which they can complete their exams.”
Overall, there has been an eight per cent increase in requests across all special access arrangements from 235,400 in 2009/10 to 255,100 this year – the approval rate remains steady at around 93 per cent.
The letter adds: “Candidates are only entitled to a reasonable adjustment if they are disabled within the meaning of the Equality Act 2010, and at a substantial disadvantage in comparison to the general population.
“Candidates who are not disabled are not entitled to reasonable adjustments. They must take their exams and other assessments under the conditions set by the exam board.”
An Ofqual position paper on the issue, also published this week, said: “We are concerned that in some cases extra time is being given to candidates to help them improve their grades rather than to address a significant disadvantage.”
The Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) maintains the online system through which centres apply for special access arrangements on behalf of a candidate and in September it published its evidence requirements for 2012/13.
For the full Ofqual letters and papers, visit www.ofqual.gov.uk/news/extra-time-timed-exams/ and for the latest guidance from JCQ, visit http://jcq.redspa.co.uk/exams-office/