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What Will The English Baccalaureate Mean For Students With Special Educational Needs?

September 19, 2012

In an email to Liberal Democrat party members on Monday night seen by Same Difference, David Laws MP wrote that the new English Baccalaureate qualifications will ‘include new provision for the very small number of children, including those with SEN, who don’t sit GCSEs at the moment.’

Full details of this new provision have not yet been revealed. The wish to include provision for children who do not sit GCSEs at 16 in a new exam system is a very positive thing. There are some children who are unable to sit GCSEs, and a number of them do have some form of Special Educational Needs.

However- the question that campaigners for inclusive education have been asking since Monday- the question that has, until now, not been answered in the press, is: what will the new qualifications mean for children with physical disabilities and/or SEN who do currently sit GCSEs at 16?

Yesterday, the British Dyslexia Association said the new qualifications could discriminate against teenagers with dyslexia or other learning difficulties. The qualification will place emphasis on exams over coursework, and these exams will be sat once and for all at the end of two years. This, the Association claimed,  will be likely to cause extra stress which could disadvantage candidates with some learning difficulties and damage their chances of going on to higher education.

The Association’s chief executive, Kate Saunders, said coursework is generally a much fairer method of assessment and constitutes a reasonable adjustment for dyslexic students. It must be considered that this could also apply to students with severe physical disabilities. Many such exam candidates currently require large amounts of extra time in order to complete exams to the best of their intellectual abilities. Extra time has been provided to exam candidates with all disabilities and learning difficulties for many years.

It could be argued that no teenager likes exams, but they are a necessary part of life. However for intelligent exam candidates with learning difficulties who experience increased stress under pressure, it would be reasonable to question the fairness of placing them under the very high level of pressure experienced by a teenager who wishes to pass an exam without which they will be unable to take their next step in life. It would be reasonable to question the real need to do so.

For intelligent exam candidates with severe physical disabilities, it could be argued that exams are even more difficult. Sitting for long periods of time can be painful for such candidates. Some require rest breaks, which are currently provided but make the exam last even longer when included in the period of time spent completing it.

Some candidates with physical disabilities are unable to communicate verbally. They use methods of communication which require constant movements. They tire easily, and find every movement painful. Campaigners have argued for several years that rather than sitting exams, such candidates should be assessed only through coursework, as this can be completed over a longer period of time under the supervision of parents and teachers who have a clear idea of the candidate’s level of intellectual ability.

Rather than placing less emphasis on coursework, or even abolishing it altogether, campaigners for inclusive education would be very pleased to see greater emphasis placed on coursework for 16 year olds.

If the English Baccalaureate is truly going to be the ‘exam for all abilities’ that David Laws MP sets out in his recent email, then it must be made fully accessible to candidates with special educational needs and physical disabilities. Otherwise, campaigners for inclusive education fear that the new system might take us back several years, to a time when even those disabled children who had the intelligence were prevented from sitting age appropriate exams.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. September 19, 2012 7:42 pm

    Excellent post making an excellent point. This is also extremely pertinent to students with autistic spectrum disorders. The difficulties experienced by people with autism can be variable depending on their sensory and other needs so, if an exam were to fall on a high stress day, there is a high likelihood that they would be unable to perform to their best in a single, high-stress exam situation. Sitting GCSEs at all is a huge achievement for these students but to lose the coursework element will take this chance away from many of them.

    My son who has ASD is 13 and in Year 9 so will be sitting his GCSEs in 2015, hopefully before the new system starts.



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