Record numbers of pupils sitting GCSE and A-level exams this summer were entitled to 25% additional time to complete their papers, official figures have revealed.
Almost one in five exam entries (19.4%) were granted extra time as a result of access arrangements for pupils with special educational needs, disabilities or temporary injuries, according to data published by the examinations regulator, Ofqual.
Numbers have been mounting over recent years, peaking in 2018/19 with just under 257,000 entries awarded the additional time, compared with 235,000 last year – an increase of 9.2%. Four years ago the total was in the region of 180,000.
According to Ofqual, the 25% additional exam time is one of a number of access arrangements which ensure pupils can be “validly assessed and are not unfairly disadvantaged due to a disability, temporary illness or injury”.
Figures published on Thursday showed a slight increase in the proportion of pupils receiving extra time of more than 25%, with 5,300 granted this arrangement in 2018-19 compared with 5,190 in 2017-18, an increase of 2.1%.
There were also small increases in the use of scribes and speech recognition technology, with 41,255 exam entries accessing these, an increase of 0.4% from last year.
A recent investigation into examination malpractice, commissioned by the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ), found no evidence of malpractice in access arrangements and special consideration applications.
It did, however, call for further research to look into the increase and to ensure a level playing field between candidates with disabilities and others.
The investigation report noted that two years ago JCQ, which represents the UK examination boards, was forced to ban the use of psychology reports privately commissioned by parents.
“These reports were, of course, only available to those who could afford to pay for them and thus gave a perceived advantage to students from well-off families,” it said. “Such reports started to become more prevalent in 2017 and were putting pressure on schools to provide these students with 25% extra time under access arrangements.”
Commenting on the latest figures, Duncan Baldwin, the deputy director of policy at the Association of School and College Leaders and a member of team which looked into exam malpractice, said: “There are a number of concerns about all of this.
“One of the things that concerns me the most is that there’s a possibility that some students are getting what they are entitled to by virtue of the fact that their parents are more engaged with the process.
“That might mean that some students don’t get what they are entitled to. What we need is more information to understand where this is coming from and what the drivers are here.”
Pupils receiving the additional 25% exam time is the most common form of access arrangement. In 2017-18, it made up 60% of all access arrangements, increasing to 63% in 2018-19.