English literature GCSEs could breach equality laws, claims SEN teacher

The new English literature GCSE could breach equalities laws by discriminating against disadvantaged pupils, it has been claimed.

SEN and English teacher Mary Meredith has urged secretary of state Nicky Morgan to reassess plans to ban text books from the reformed English literature exams.

Ms Meredith says the ban disadvantages pupils with disabilities impacting on verbal memory, such as dyslexia.

Mary Meredith's blog

Mary Meredith’s blog

“They will not be able to recall text well enough in closed book conditions to demonstrate their analytical skills,” she wrote on her blog.

“As I’m sure you’re aware, fifteen poems, in complex and often ambiguous language and drawn from a range of sociohistorical contexts, must be remembered well enough for at least one, we know not which, to be analysed from memory in the exam.

“A difficult task for all – an impossible one for the minority we ought to be more concerned about.”

Ofqual has refused to comment on the claims.

But the qualifications watchdog has previously said that ensuring pupils cannot take books into exams is the only way they can be confident the whole text has been read.

It has also completed “equality impact analysis” consultation work, which included hosting workshops where equality and community groups were invited to attend.

The analysis report read: “In terms of the possible effect of longer examinations in the move to a linear system, one of the reasonable adjustments currently provided by exam boards for disabled students is the use of rest periods during examinations. The option for disabled students to apply for this reasonable adjustment will continue.”

But Ms Meredith said: “I hope that you can see that no amount of extra time will correct a memory deficit.”

She adds: “Closed book assessment places a premium on the ability to remember many quotations, from many poems, and any candidate with impaired verbal memory will be severely disadvantaged. There is simply no escaping that.

“An attempt has been made, but it makes no sense whatsoever and has been rejected out of hand by the English teaching community.

“I hope that you can see that no amount of extra time will correct a memory deficit.”

“The explanation given is that closed book assessment is the only way the regulator can be confident that the whole text has been read. Again, I’m sure you can see the flaws in this logic. If indeed it can be called logic.”

Ofqual's consultation

Ofqual’s consultation

Does it flout equality rules?

The Equality Act 2010 protects individuals from unlawful discrimination because of a protected characteristic e.g. disability.

The Equality Advisory Support Service, through correspondence with Ms Meredith, said it also “places duties on education providers to make reasonable adjustments where a disabled student is placed at a substantial disadvantage.

“In this case, the disadvantage arises due to their recall difficulties, therefore, education providers and examining bodies have a duty to try to minimise or remove that disadvantage.

“The Act states that where an adjustment is reasonable (e.g. providing the text in full) it must be provided, however, if an adjustment is refused, an explanation must be provided stating why it is unreasonable.”

It adds “if all students are required to follow the new requirements of having to recall text in the closed book assessment but this is disproportionately affecting disabled students, this is likely to amount to indirect discrimination”.

“When trying to infer indirect discrimination, you would first need to identify the neutral policy, this would be the exam policy whereby all students must undertake this assessment under closed book conditions and recall set text.

“In order to infer indirect discrimination, you would also have to show that there is a personal disadvantage, this would apply to the disabled students who are personally affected by the policy.”

It adds indirect discrimination, in some situations, can be justified where it can be shown to be a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.