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Working in extra time – Headmaster’s Blog – Wednesday 15th February 2017

February 15, 2017

Working in extra time

We are all used to the concept of sports’ fixtures, especially cup competitions, having to go into extra time to bring about a decisive result. These can be very nervous times for the players and spectators with increased pressure on officials, not least if the dreaded penalty shoot-outs are needed!

The notion of access arrangements

Many parents, however, will be less used to the concept of extra time in school exams. Very few will have experienced this aspect of school testing themselves unless they are part of our very diligent, cheerful and committed group of volunteers who assist us at Ballard in the school exam season. Over the past ten years, and especially the last five, the number of ‘exam concessions’ and ‘access arrangements’ have grown. These are designed, to return to the sporting analogy, to ‘level the playing field’ for all exam candidates. Such concessions are not easily granted – there is a stringent set of criteria which needs to be met and a great deal of observation and recording by staff in school to ensure any concession is justified. The Exam Boards then need to agree. Such ‘access arrangements’ can range from a pupil being supervised in a separate room (perhaps because of anxiety issues or other phobias), to the use of laptops or coloured paper, the facility of a reader or scribe for the exam paper and, of course, the granting of more time to complete a paper – typically 25% extra. The management of all of this is immense and can really stretch a school’s resources, rooming and staffing.

Department of Enhanced Learning at Ballard

Here at Ballard we go out of our way to ensure ‘access arrangements’ are fully justified and then properly and sensitively administered. Our Department of Enhanced Learning is at the centre of all such professional work but, as I’ve noted, we are immensely grateful to parent, staff and other helpers to ensure we can facilitate the concessions. I was thus extremely interested to note the reports in the Press this past week which highlighted the emphasis given to such ‘access arrangements’, especially in the independent sector. ‘Independent schools more likely to get extra time’ was the much trumpeted headline. Here is a summary of some of the coverage:

Media coverage of access arrangements

Analysis of last year’s GCSE and A-level entries by BBC Radio 4’s Today programme shows that independent school pupils are more likely to receive extra time to complete their exams, with one in five students at the fee-paying schools granted extra time, compared to fewer than one in eight pupils from state schools. Ofqual said the difference may arise because independent schools are more ready and able to find students entitled to more time, while HMC, a group representing independent schools, attributed it to “proper resourcing” which “can be lacking in state maintained schools.” Peter Hamilton, headteacher at the Haberdashers’ Aske’s Boys’ School, described the matter as a “good news story” as it shows improvements in identifying pupils’ special needs and delivery of a fairer exam process for them. Geoff Barton, head teacher of Bury St Edmunds’ King Edward VI School, is less welcoming, saying the data raises “some serious questions for schools.” The Joint Council for Qualifications commented that fairness is ensured “by the process being the same, irrespective of location or type of school or college.” Elsewhere, Judith Woods in the Telegraph suggests that some children in private education are sheltered by “over-generous” attempts to give them an advantage, including the provision of exam extensions.

My only additional comment would be that, in keeping with most independent schools, at Ballard we will go the ‘extra mile’ to try and meet the reasonable and legitimate needs of all of our pupils to make sure they can give of their best in exam conditions. Often those who qualify for such ‘access arrangements’ are very bright, creative and hardworking but have some ‘disability’ to overcome and it’s only just and fair to enable them to be given appropriate support. Such concessions can lessen anxiety, increase confidence and allow pupils to excel in all areas of their studies as once a need is recognised and understood, our caring and nurturing teachers can also adapt their teaching and support to ensure all the children in our school can receive and achieve their best.

Alastair Reid (Headmaster)

We tweet from @BallardSchool

Ballard School is an independent, private co-educational school in New Milton, Hampshire, providing an outstanding level of education for nursery to GCSE. With small class sizes and proven academic excellence, we strive to nurture the academic potential of all students. Learn more about our academic programmes, pastoral care, facilities and school ethos by visiting our website or by requesting a prospectus here.

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