SENCos won't have to prove pupils need exam reader help

Special educational needs coordinators requesting permission to use readers for pupils will no longer have to provide evidence the extra help is needed, exam boards have announced.

The Joint Council for Qualifications, which represents the four GCSE and A-level exam boards, has announced that from next year, SENCos will no longer have to complete a form which previously required schools to prove that pupils need help from a human or computer reader.

The challenge will be maintaining confidence in the system and not imposing unreasonable burdens on schools

The document, known as “form 8” was seen as an onerous requirement which contributed to unnecessary workload in schools.

From now on, JCQ requires that SENCos produce only a “short concise file note” confirming the nature of their impairment, and that the use of a reader reflects the “normal and current way of working” for that pupil.

The use of a reader is the second most popular type of help given to pupils after requests for extra time. The proportion of pupils requiring the help of a reader increased from 6.8 per cent in 2016-17 to 7.3 per cent in 2017-18.

The scrapping of “form 8” has been welcomed by the British Dyslexic Association, which said the approach will “encourage schools and education providers to maximise their use of technology, levelling the playing field for dyslexics in education”.

Helen Boden, the charity’s chief executive, said: “This announcement is great news for young people with dyslexia and schools. It is simpler whilst maintaining standards and is more reflective of the world of work.

“Being able to use computer technology more easily in exams we hope will see it become more mainstream, embedding technology in all educational settings leading to greater equality and higher attainment levels for those candidates with learning difficulties like dyslexia.”

Anne Heavey, from Whole School SEND, agreed that it was “a pragmatic decision which hopefully will ensure that candidates can access assessments in a way that helps them to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding without generating significant additional workload for the SENCo”.

“The challenge will be maintaining confidence in the system and not imposing unreasonable burdens on schools,” she added.

The announcement comes as data from Teacher Tapp revealed primary schools may be stretching rules which only allow the use of readers for pupils who already require help with reading on a regular basis.

The results of a survey, conducted during SATs week this year, shows how many schools are using readers or scribes for large numbers of their pupils at key stage 2.

For example, the survey found around half of one-form entry primary schools had at least four pupils in a class using either a reader or scribe for exams – equivalent to a sixth of their entire intake.

The data also shows that half of teachers reported losing their teaching assistants to SATs help during exam week.

Government guidance states that readers and scribes should only be used if it is consistent with “normal classroom practice” for a pupil.