Education: the call for fair assessments

As exam results are replaced by grades based on teacher assessments, leading charities for people who are D/deaf/HoH, blind or visually impaired are calling for assurances that 300,000 pupils aren’t treated unfairly.

Early in 2021, it was confirmed that exam results would be replaced with grades based on teacher assessments for the second year running. The measure has been put in place to ensure the safety of teachers and students due to the pandemic, but it has raised concerns around accessibility and inclusion.

The National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS), Royal National Institute of the Blind (RNIB), the Professional Association of the Vision Impairment Education Workforce (VIEW) and the British Association of Teachers of the Deaf (BATOD) are now demanding assurances and actions to ensure a group of pupils isn’t left behind.

“Deaf students have had to work harder to make progress in education compared with their peers and now risk being let down at the final hurdle,” stresses Martin McLean, education policy advisor at NDCS.

“I am Deaf too and know first-hand some of the barriers Deaf young people face in accessing their education.”

The four organisations want specialist teachers and other education professionals involved in the gathering of evidence to ensure pupils’ abilities are reflected in grades.

“Deaf candidates and vision impaired candidates are quite a small group, so it’s very important to remember that just because they’re a small group they shouldn’t be overlooked,” emphasises Paul Simpson, national executive at BATOD.


Grades will be based on teachers’ knowledge, using mock tests and class assessments to back them up.

“There is some nervousness when you don’t know which evidence teachers will be using to grade a student,” admits Martin. “Exams are very formal situations for which there is a lot of preparation and you can make sure it is as accessible as possible for a student. When using marks from classwork or informal tests then you might not have had the same discussions around accessibility.

“Deaf children and young people have been hit with reduced access to the support they are used to, such as from Teachers of the Deaf, who visit schools and colleges to support them with accessing classes and learning materials.”

Some D/deaf/HoH, blind or visually impaired students are given access arrangements to ensure they are treated equally to other young people in education settings and during test situations. Over the last year when home learning has taken precedent, these haven’t always been in place for everyday learning, let alone testing.

The most common access arrangement is 25 per cent extra time in testing, giving young people more time to process what questions are asking of them, but others include British Sign Language interpretation of questions, computer readers and scribes.

The assurance that specialists would be consulted in gathering evidence would ensure it is noted if these access arrangements were in place during mocks and class tests.

“We would like that to be compulsory that the advice of a specialist is sought and the accessibility arrangements that were in place for any piece of evidence used is documented,” explains Caireen Sutherland, principal education officer at RNIB and a member of the executive committee at VIEW.

“Where accessibility wasn’t in place that it was really clearly documented as why that evidence is still having to be used, we want a more robust system that clearly outlines specialists were involved.”

Involvement of education professionals who are aware of these pupils’ abilities and requirements will ensure a fairer system.

“The specialist teacher involved knows the student and the implications of the deafness in this case and they can be involved, so the main thing we are asking for is that centres should involve those teachers pro-actively,” adds Paul. “We want that to be enshrined and the Department of Education to indicate in the strongest possible terms that a centre should involve these professionals in that judgement.”

In line with these changes, the four organisations also want to see an appeals system that reflects the mode in which grades are being formulated.


Without confirmation of these measures for 2021 summer assessments, around 300,000 pupils could experience disruption to their future plans.

“If young people are disadvantaged through unfair grading, combined with lost learning through the pandemic, then it becomes more difficult for them to achieve their ambitions,” worries Martin. “Imagine how demoralising it would be to have teachers award your exam results based on a test that you struggled with on the day because you couldn’t fully understand the instructions or you ran out of time to give your answers.

“There is a bigger issue here about the quality of access to education for deaf children and young people in general.”

Access to college, university and the job market could all be affected along with the level at which young people can progress through school. “We would really worry about them not getting the grades they deserve and are academically able of getting and it then impacts on their next tier of choices, potentially it has a huge impact on the next stage of their education and we would really hate to see them disadvantaged in that way,” stresses Caireen.

“We would really hope that a decision is made sooner rather than later so everyone knows what the system is and that enables people to start gathering the evidence.”

As these organisations, specialist teachers, schools and pupils across the country await clarification from the exam board, it is hoped that these pupils won’t be left behind during an already difficult period of time for children and young people.

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