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Help in Exams and Statutory Tests

Five people in an educational setting.


Pupils who have learning difficulties and disabilities may qualify for help (known as ‘access arrangements’) in public examinations and national curriculum tests (commonly known as Standard Assessment Tests (SATS)). ‘Access arrangements’ allow skills and knowledge to be demonstrated by learners with disabilities, temporary illnesses or special educational needs. 

The most common arrangements are for extra time or provision of a computer or a person to read or write for the pupil (except for exams that specifically test these skills, such as English). There are other possible arrangements for pupils with visual or hearing impairments, or other difficulties.

Access Arrangements allow learners with special educational needs, disabilities or temporary injuries to access the assessment without changing the demands of the assessment. In order for Access Arrangements to be agreed evidence must be provided that the need and normal way of working of the learner meets the criteria for the access arrangement.

If the evidence demonstrates that that the access arrangement is required then the responsible body of a school (the board of governors or the proprietor in the case of an Academy) has a duty not to discriminate against that learner and the examination board has a duty to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate for that pupil’s disability. This is a legal duty set out in sections 85 and 96 of the Equality Act 2010.

How Will the School or College Decide Who Qualifies for Help?

The school decides whether this support is needed by referring to the guidance and rules set out each year. 

Key stage 1 and 2 National Curriculum Tests: For each type of access arrangement the Standards and Testing Agency set evidence requirements which must be met by the pupil to qualify. School can then apply when the application window opens.  School are moderated to ensure the evidence requirements are followed.  The rules set are updated each year.

Secondary school and college examinations:  For each type of access arrangement, the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) sets evidence requirements which must be met for the pupil to qualify. The JCQ inspects schools to check that the evidence requirements are strictly followed. The JCQ rules are lengthy and detailed and are updated every year.

The rules can be accessed by visiting the JCQ website.

When a school is believes that a pupil may need access arrangements, it should gather the necessary evidence of need from class teachers and others (such as parents, the pupil and any other staff and external professionals involved). The school may need to carry out assessment tests, (e.g. of reading, spelling, comprehension, writing or processing speed).

Documents such as an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) or a report from professional such as an educational psychologist (EP) may be supportive but do not automatically entitle a pupil to access arrangements without additional corroborative evidence from the school.

The school should apply for permission to put the access arrangements in place for all assessed parts of the course (not just the final exam). It is best if the school applies before the pupil begins the exam course. In the case of Key Stage 1 (KS1) and KS2 SATs, the window of application for access arrangements is outlined in the SATs arrangements publication each year.

How Do I Explore the Possibility of Access Arrangements for My Child?

The first step is to speak to the class teacher and Special Education Needs Coordinator (SENCO).  You can discuss what might be needed, and if appropriate, when and how this can be applied for. You can also discuss any evidence that could be used to support the need for access arrangements. Be prepared to show evidence that the help is needed. The best evidence will be the fact that the child or young person has needed, and received, help of this kind in the past; for example, if they have previously received help reading exam papers or extra time because they are slow at reading exam papers, in internal exams.

If you have any other evidence from reports that set out the child or young person’s difficulties (for example with reading, spelling or writing) and provides for them to have help in class or with tests, this is important supporting evidence.

If the child or young person has an EHCP then this may strengthen your request but it doesn’t create a legal obligation on the school to arrange this extra help with exams. However, if the EHCP specifies help with reading texts (for example, in the form of support from a teaching assistant) then this will be important evidence that this is how the child or young person normally works, and they are going to need the same kind of support in order to do their best in public exams.

It may be that there is not enough evidence that an access arrangement is the child’s ‘normal way of working’, perhaps because they have only recently arrived at the school, or because this need has only recently become apparent, but if your experience (and your child’s) is that they are only able to show their full potential when given the necessary support, you should ask that the school carries out the relevant assessment tests so that they can make an application for the access arrangement.

Additional Help and Support


Amaze SENDIASS (Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Information Advice and Support Service) are a local charity who offer free, independent, and impartial advice for all matters relating to SEND. Contact Amaze SENDIASS:

East Sussex Local Offer directory of services

You can visit our SEND-specific online directory, hosted on East Sussex 1Space, that lists many different services both throughout the county and online. Services include advice, guidance and support groups, activities and events and mental health and wellbeing support among many other topics:

NHS - Health A to Z

While the East Sussex Local Offer aims to provide as much information as possible, there may be some conditions that aren't covered in thorough detail. The NHS website has pages that list all conditions, with information and advice on how to get extra support:

Glossary of East Sussex SEND Terms

Some of the terms used on this website are explained on our page, Glossary of East Sussex SEND Terms.

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