What is best practice when it comes to exam provision for blind and partially sighted children? What role should we be playing as parent carers within the team around our child? How can we ensure the best possible outcomes for our children with the least amount of stress for all concerned?

Jane Sharp and Simon Kerrigan, from RNIB’s Education Team,  presented two case studies that explore how families, schools and VI services can work together to best prepare learners for 14+ exams. They also updated us on the progress that has been made in the sector to improve exam access and provide equity for blind and partially sighted learners. We heard from LOOK mentors Abi and Alice about their experiences of taking GCSEs and A Levels, advice and life hacks they want to pass on. 

We were also joined by two researchers, Dr Liyuan Liu and Dr Kevin Mason from exam board Pearson who have been working with two LOOK families and want to gather more stories / examples for their research on modified papers

Update on modified Past Papers

 There has been significant progress in modified past papers to prepare for exams 

  •  Exam boards under JCQ  have all agreed to produce modified past papers for a live series          
  •  Deadline to order past papers is 31 october

Information about formats of modified papers

The standard available formats for 14+ exams in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are:

  • A3 unmodified enlarged. 
  • A4 modified enlarged (18 point bold). 
  • A4 modified enlarged (24 point bold) 
  • A3 modified enlarged (24 point bold). 
  • A3 modified enlarged (36 point) 
  • Grade 2 UEB braille with tactile diagrams 
  • Large print papers with tactile diagram 
  • Non-interactive PDF
  • SQA: 14pt, 18pt, 24pt, 36pt and 48pt in either portrait or landscape orientation.
  • SQA question papers can be ordered on coloured paper: cream, pink, yellow, green, purple, blue and orange.

Top Tips

TOP Tips on Exam Provision from LOOK mentor Alice

Alice is a braillist

  • I had a mixed experiences of accessibility in exams
  • Particularly found maths A level and GCSE challenging as someone with a visual impairment because of the lack of tactile diagrams and accessible resources
  • Support of an amazing QTVI was imperative to my exam preparation as they provided me with lots of skills  and techniques with adapted materials which boosted my confidence
  • Course content of the exam is important, however so are your braille skills, tactile skills and the opportunity to practice with equipment such as a talking calculator.
  • Despite the challenges, I achieved an A in A level Psychology and a C in  A level Mathematics and have gone onto higher education studying Psychology at University.
  • My story is proof that even if your visually impaired child studies fewer A levels and GCSEs they can still succeed in their education.
  • My psychology lecturers made adjustments to delivering the content with one recording PowerPoints for me to listen to before the lesson. 

Lessons learnt

  • Ensure that all VI students are entitled to do any examinations. It should not matter what subject they want to study.I had to fight to do my A level subjects at my college and was the first VI student to do A level Mathematics
  • VI students should not be limited to study less visual subjects
  • Resources were not accessible and the specialist equipment was expensive to buy and obtain
  • During my A level mathematics course I was not taught some of the syllabus as it was thought to be too visual for me to do.  This could have been compensated for in the exam or the course content amended in some way to provide access for all.
  • I needed more support away from College lessons and this was done by my Mum and later a private maths tutor but not everyone can afford this.
  • My college was not the most supportive of my needs.  I had to teach myself braille maths symbols as the college did not have the provision to do this.

Solutions for improvement in exam provision for future VI young people?

  • More accessible resources and past papers to be made available
  • Diagrams for examinations need to be made clearer and understandable for VI students
  • Check examination papers for mistakes in the braille and diagrams as some of my papers did contain these
  • Exam results should be made in an accessible format such as braille/large print 

Top Tips for dealing with exam stress

Preparation

  • If you think it’s too early, it’s probably not as things take a while so get a head start
  • Get in practice like the real thing as near as possible. Readers, in own room, large print papers etc.

Revision

  • Compress the information into small chunks then memorise the small chunks. Turn paragraphs into sentences then sentences into letters for the key words. This is a good memory technique.
  • Speak aloud the information you are trying to revise and keep trying to speak it whatever you are doing. It helps to keep it in your memory.
  • Don’t sit down for too long, give yourself breaks.
  • Use the people around you- your family members to check if you are remembering the key information.
  • It’s important to do it your own way. I was never a big note maker and would instead reread lots of content with fast speech. 

Things That Can Help

  • Maintain hobbies for stress relief, it keeps you sane, active and helps you to keep going.
  • Hydrate, rest and sleep, it all aids brain recovery. All night cramming sessions do not help.
  • Look forward to exams rather than dreading it. If you can be excited and look at it as an opportunity it can help you get through them in a reasonable way. 
  • Make time for yourself. Paths aren’t linear and if you don’t do as well as you like there are opportunities later. Make time for fun. I always found crunchy snacks like carrot sticks and popcorn helped me relax. 
  • It won’t feel like it at the time but some of my best stories have been connected to things going wrong. Take a big breath, do your best and speak to the exams officer afterwards. 
  • Be aware of strain. Having mechanisms in place to relax is very important, as well as teachers and QTVIs around who understand you and your needs.
  • Try not to panic when things go wrong. Things may go wrong with modification, but there are always solutions and second chances.
  • It’s easy to feel isolated during exam times with having to be in a different room. Important to prepare for what the exam environment will be like.
  • Please remember it’s not the be all and end all. Exam results will not define you. You will find your way with support and guidance plus your own strength and resilience. 
  • Exams are tiring for everyone, allow for this. One of the best things your parents or carers can do is provide the snacks and cups of tea needed.

Presentations

RNIB

Pearson

Meet the panel

Jane Sharp

Senior Education Specialist QTVI, RNIB

Jane has over 20 years experience working as a QTVI, mainly in secondary and upper primary, and currently works for RNIB’s education team. Her areas of special interest include assistive technology, access to reading, exams, and training for VI education professionals. Jane is a JCQ accredited modifier for Science GCSEs and GCEs.

Jane is an active member of the committee for VIEW, the professional association for the vision impairment education workforce. VIEW’s aim is to improve outcomes for learners with VI through supporting the education professionals who work with them. VIEW provides a voice for VI education professionals at a national level on issues around exams and, in partnership with RNIB and other organisations, continues to support members to develop their knowledge and skills in this area. Of particular note is the popular VIEW/RNIB online course, Prepare for Success, a staff training resource covering modification and production of in-house assessments to the standards of external exams.

John Rous Milligan

Team Leader for VI & MSI CYP and Families, Chair VIEW

Currently representing VIEW on a number of NatSIP and DfE consultations, I manage a team of professionals supporting VI/MSI CYP aged 0-25 across Norfolk, UK. Deputy Chair of Trustees, Snowdon Trust. Deputy Chair, Governance Group Short Stay Schools for Norfolk. Lifelong Sunderland fan.

John will be attending to offer advice to families on what you can expect from your LA Sensory Service. He is also hoping to collect information on what works and what could be improved to give feedback to the agencies he is working with.

Abi Way

Abi has oculocutaneous Albinism, Nystagmus, and an undiagnosed condition which she has dubbed ‘The Flashiness’. She is 21 years old, studying Product Design Engineering in Belfast. Alongside this she enjoys a variety of sports – trampolining, swimming, gymnastics and cycling – and other activities, such as performing music, teaching swimming and teaching numeracy / English to younger children. For this academic year she is undertaking a placement with Airbus, working in the Space Industry, which so far has been an amazing experience! 

Dr Liyuan Liu

Senior Assessment Researcher

Dr Liyuan Liu is a senior assessment researcher on the Qualifications and Assessment Research team at Pearson UK. She is directing a diverse portfolio of high and low-stake assessment research projects. Since 2022, she has been leading and working with Kevin Mason on a mixed-method approach to understanding the utilisation of modified enlarged prints and interactive PDFs in UK secondary schools. The research aims to integrate findings into practical strategies for future paper design based on real user experiences of students and exam officers.

She was a post-doc research fellow at Roehampton University who mainly supported the planning and development of assessment methodology and instruments for UNICEF and World Bank Life Skills and Citizenship Education Project between 2017 and 2021. She co-authored a relevant international report, entitled ‘Measuring Life Skills in the Context of Life Skills and Citizenship Education in the Middle East and North Africa’ to deliver information about the current status of 12 life skills development within an international context. This report was translated to standard Arabic and French by UNICEF in 2021, which also obtained the highest download rates in MENA countries during the Covid-19 pandemic.

In early 2021, she worked as an individual consultant for UNICEF Headquarters to provide evidence-based advice on mapping holistic skills development for children and youth. She is particularly interested in creating learning opportunities and developing fair, inclusive, and accessible assessments to support youth, especially disadvantaged youth, to help them progress and succeed at different life stages.

Kevin Mason

Senior Assessment Researcher

Kevin Mason has been a Senior Assessment Researcher in the Qualifications and Assessment Research team at Pearson UK since 2018. Working on a range of high and low-stake assessment research projects. Since 2022, he has been working with Dr Liyuan Liu on a mixed-method approach to understanding the utilisation of modified enlarged prints and interactive PDFs in UK secondary schools. The research aims to integrate findings into practical strategies for future paper design based on real user experiences of students and exam officers.

Kevin has been at Pearson since 2002 and during this time has worked in a number of different roles. Initially with the Processing team, making sure that results were ready for all GCSE students in time for results day before moving into General Qualifications Assessment. In this team he acted as subject officer, signing off question papers, ensuring marking was done on time and accurately and setting grade boundaries for a number of qualifications, including GCSE Religious Studies, GCSE Music, A-level Politics, A-level Economics and A-level Business Studies. From 2010 he was an assessment designer, helping to create the blueprints for assessments for a number of GCSE, A-level and Vocational Qualifications.

Kevin has been accredited at Practitioner level by the Association of Educational Assessment – Europe and has an MSc in Educational Assessment from the University of Oxford.

Simon Kerrigan

Education Specialist QTVI

Simon is an Education Specialist at RNIB. He is a QTVI, with experience working in secondary and upper primary school and has previously worked as the Lead QTVI in a large Integrated Resource for children and young people with vision impairment in a mainstream secondary school. Simon’s main areas of special interest include supporting students with preparation for exams, assistive technology in the classroom and making sport accessible.

The CYPF Education Service provides support to children and young people with vision impairment, their family members and professionals that work alongside them. They offer specialist information, advice and guidance specific to the needs of the individual.