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Exam concessions are not cheating

View profile for Nathan Davies
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A quite astonishing article published recently in The Daily Telegraph in Sydney illustrates how mainstream schools and in many respects the media deal with special educational needs in schools.

The article has a title that simply states "HSC: Top schools' pupils snare 'disability' edge in exam loophole."

The article goes on to imply that anxious and absent minded teenagers (the emphasis being on teenagers rather than pupils presumably because it is meant as a reminder that teenagers are lazy) are being classified as disabled unfairly. The overall thrust of the article is that private schools are cheating the system and are making out that their students are disabled and need special access arrangements for exams illegally and fraudulently. It is a remarkable piece of reporting.

The article is also remarkably backed up by the NSW Teachers Union president Maurie Mulheron who is quoted as saying that "Private schools are gaming the system and using the special provisions to give their students an unfair advantage in order to be able to publish artificial HSC results for marketing purposes."

The principal of one school accused of unfairly helping students to achieve to their potential simply indicated that perhaps his parents were better informed and knew their child’s rights. Obviously that is a very valid point. The article however seemingly wishes the reader to think that parents who can afford private schools can afford private diagnosis’s to say what they want. Our SEN solicitors have lost count of the number of times that they are told by Local Authorities that private assessments are invalid because they just say what the rich parents who instructed them want them to say. Again this is nonsense.

This article is interesting and a concern. The fact that it relates to Australia is irrelevant as the same attitudes are displayed here in the UK. Children with special educational needs must have access arrangements if having them is a reasonable adjustment. The suggestion that a school would fraudulently attempt to defraud the exam board by making out that a student is disabled just to get access arrangements is an outrageous claim to make. The school in question doesn’t even approve of the access arrangements- the exam board must decide whether the young person is severely affected sufficiently by their learning difficulty to justify making a concession.

What the article and many people don’t realise is that such pupils are not being given an advantage at all- they are merely not being disadvantaged. The Equality Act 2010 protects the rights of young people with disabilities and making reasonable adjustments to exams to make them fair universally is not a way to "game" any system. It is a way to level the playing field.

A failure to make reasonable adjustments for examinations is unlawful in the UK and our disability discrimination lawyer team can assist you if you need advice. Just give us a call on 02920 291704.