PUPILS are increasingly being granted extra time to complete GCSE and A-level examination papers, according to official figures.
Latest statistics from exams organisation Ofqual reveal 128,744 requests were made this summer for candidates to be given as much as 25 per cent longer to finish their exams.
This is five per cent more than the year before, when 122,214 requests were made to exam boards.
The latest data shows that most requests were granted – a total of 123,248 were approved this summer, compared with 117,169 the year before.
Under current rules, schools are allowed to ask for reasonable adjustments to be made for candidates who have particular needs. These can include disabilities, medical conditions, illnesses or support for students whose first language is not English, Irish or Welsh.
The adjustments include extra time to complete exams, providing readers or scribes, arranging for exam papers to be printed on coloured paper, bilingual dictionaries or sign language interpreters.
The latest data shows that overall, 255,145 requests were made for special access arrangements this year, up from 248,850 in 2010-11.
Of these, most requests by far was for as long as 25 per cent extra time to sit a paper.
The figures come the day after Ofqual raised concerns that some candidates were being given extra time to help improve their grades rather than to deal with a specific disadvantage.
In a report, the exams regulator said an increase in candidates being given extra time may be down to better diagnosis of disability, and more understanding in schools on how to create a “level playing field” for their disabled students.
However the report adds: “We are concerned that in some cases extra time is being given to candidates to help them improve their grades rather than to address a significant disadvantage.”
The report also says that candidates who are not entitled to a “reasonable adjustment” should not be given extra time to help them achieve a higher grade.
“Many candidates might improve their performance if they had more time to complete their exams,” it says.
Exam boards will be asked to review their approach to the extra time rule, and asked to identify schools and colleges that request special requirements for pupils who are not eligible.
The latest figures show that in total, about 93 per cent of requests – 237,065 altogether – were approved this summer.
After extra time, the most common requests were for readers, who was asked for 60,696 times and for scribes who were requested on 35,620 occasions.
Ofqual has written to teaching associations and school groups this week to set out its position.
The letter says: “Candidates are only entitled to a reasonable adjustment of extra time if they are disabled, within the meaning of the Equality Act of 2010 and at a substantial disadvantage in comparison to the general population when taking an exam under timed condition because of the time constraints under which the exam is taken.”
Ofqual’s concerns have come as the Government is looking to make the exam process more rigorous.
Education Secretary Michael Gove has announced plans to replace GCSEs with new English Baccalaureate certificates.
He said the reforms would restore rigour to the examination system by cutting back on the amount of coursework counting towards final marks, preventing the resitting of modules and placing more emphasis on end-of-term exams.
If the shake up goes ahead, work for the English Baccalaureate certificates could be taught in the key subjects of English, maths and sciences from 2015 with the first pupils being tested in 2017.
The year group starting secondary school this year would be the first to be examined this way.
The reforms also plan to stop exam boards competing to offer qualifications in the same subject.