Increasing numbers of students in the United Kingdom are granted extra time during their exams. The figure has risen by a staggering 36 percent over the last four years.
Teachers stand accused of bending the rules over false claims that children have “special needs”. UK government organisation Ofqual reported one in six GCSE and A-level candidates now receive 25 percent extra time.
With 164,390 students receiving extra time in the 2013-14 academic year, compared with last year’s 223,405 students, it is not a figure which appears to be slowing.
According to The Guardian, critics have claimed the figures “make a mockery” of the system. It leads to chaotic exam results where countless students have had extra provisions in place to get them their grade. They feel it undermines the credibility of other students’ results, and of the public examination system on the whole.
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Ofqual commented on the huge variation across the board on schools’ and colleges’ numbers of pupils afforded extra time. Controversially, private school pupils are more likely to receive extra time than their public school contemporaries, The Times reported.
In response, Ofqual intends to contact certain schools which have abnormally high or low extra time applications. The organisation will work with exam boards to suggest amendments to their extra time approaches.
“We have looked at the proportion of students at individual schools and colleges in England who are given extra time,” an Ofqual spokesperson told The Guardian. “Some have relatively high numbers of approvals compared with the average, and some have very few.”
Private school pupils securing extra time in exams for special needs in disproportionate numbers https://t.co/silpgPUzD4
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To grant extra time for pupils, schools must apply to the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ). There are a variety of acceptable reasons in which students can receive the extra time, including: learning difficulties, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and mental health conditions.
Speaking to The Guardian, Professor Alan Smithers of the University of Buckingham, said: “Extra time does confer an advantage. As parents and schools have become more aware that extra time can be claimed and that more and more candidates are getting it, more are trying for it.”
Extra time is often “an open goal for both pushy parents and pushy schools”, he remarked. “It is out of all proportion – the fact is that a sixth of the children in the country do not have special needs.”
“We have redefined it as if you have pushy parents you are special needs”.
Sophie Wardrop, a student nurse who receives extra time for dyslexia told Study International she would “love to give up [her] extra time, but unfortunately it’s needed”.
“My dyslexia was weirdly picked up by the optician when I was 15, due to my stuttering and stumbling while reading a text of a routine eye examination.”
It isn’t easy to receive diagnoses like these. Wardrop recalls having three separate assessments which included a psychologist report which cost her upwards of £400 (US$540).
“This is where my mind is blown at people being able to ‘fake dyslexia’ because I was timed on activities such as reading or writing, so they’d have to be very good at pretending to actually match results on every attempt,” she said.
There have been warnings about schools gaming the system – but the latest figures show the numbers getting allowances in exams continuing to rise.
The exam watchdog, Ofqual, says it will contact schools with unusually high levels of pupils receiving extra time. pic.twitter.com/OgJCv24VLz
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“I don’t feel at any advantage having my 25% extra time. I still have to revise and prepare like anyone else. My extra time just means I have time to process the question, read and analyse text or find relevant information.”
Wardrop breaks her time up accordingly, by leaving a large amount of it for planning and re-reading for spelling and punctuation errors. “Without the extra time, I think I’d panic and probably still be planning when I should be writing, or not leaving enough time to read over my exam.”
Not all of Wardrop’s extra time is used in every exam but she added it is reassuring to know of its availability should she require it.
An Ofqual spokesperson told The Guardian that “it is important that appropriate adjustments are made”. For students such as Wardrop, additional time is essential. But it will be a mighty task for Ofqual to identify who is in need, and who is cheating the system.