Published: 06:00, 06 September 2021
| Updated: 16:39, 06 September 2021
A Maidstone mum has created a petition calling for dyslexia-friendly exam papers following her daughter's struggles - and it has already been signed by nearly 10,000 people.
Alexandra Castle, whose 15-year-old daughter Maddie has the condition, launched the campaign after first raising her concerns with the Assessment and Qualifications Alliance (AQA) and Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) in December.
The petition aims to create a standard double-line spaced format of exam papers, specifically for dyslexic students.
The 49-year-old says the options currently available are very limited, and simply make the text bigger for visually-impaired students rather than spacing the text in a way that helps youngsters with the learning difficulty.
She believes the proposed new format can improve dyslexic students’ reading skills and performance in exams.
Maddie, who attends Invicta Grammar School for Girls in Maidstone, was diagnosed at the age of 10 with dyslexia, after a maths teacher noticed a significant drop in her marks. He noticed that as she got older, the questions became longer to read, meaning Maddie ran out of time.
Mrs Castle received a reply from AQA in July saying students could get the same effect of double-line spacing by placing a blank sheet of paper which covers the line below the one that they are reading.
She said: “That statement shows they know full well there's a problem, and they're not willing to solve it. They are expecting the student to make this adjustment that is within their gift to make.”
The same month, Mrs Castle launched the petition feeling she “had been left no choice” after so many requests and no change.
Now, it is just shy of its 10,000-signature goal.
The JCQ said it had not adopted a double-line spaced format specifically for dyslexic students as it had never been recommended by experts.
The spokesman explained dyslexic students can, however, benefit from access arrangements that have been designed to aid visually impaired students.
A JCQ spokesman said: "The Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) has tried and trusted access arrangements, which allow candidates with special educational needs, disabilities or temporary injuries to access examinations and assessments.
"Exam boards already provide papers in a variety of formats for dyslexic and other students, including in enlarged fonts with extra line spacing.
"JCQ and the exam boards ensure the views and professional opinions of disability groups are taken into consideration when developing access arrangements.
"The provision of modified enlarged exam papers for candidates with visual impairments has been developed and refined over many years. JCQ and the exam boards have, and will continue to, consult with organisations such as the British Dyslexic Association, Royal National Institute of Blind People and Qualified Teachers of the Visually Impaired to ensure the available access arrangements remain appropriate and reasonable."
The current arrangements for candidates with reading difficulties include reading pens, coloured paper, enlarged exam papers from A4 to A3, and a human or computer reader.
Mrs Castle disagreed with JCQ’s statement and said the extra line spacing and enlarged font are not sufficient.
She said: “You can make the letters bigger, and yes, the space does get bigger. But the point is, the space between the words and letters remains exactly the same, the page still looks crowded.”
She added that the current access arrangements can be quite costly to schools.
Technology such as reading pens – which scan the text and reads it out loud - could cost up to £240 each, bearing in mind each student needs two - one for class and another for exams.
Another provision would be someone reading the paper out loud, but students might feel singled out that way.
Mrs Castle hopes this petition can at least shed light on the issue.
She said: “With a 10-15% of the population estimated to be dyslexic, people would just assume this support exists.
“I’ve tried all reasonable avenues and a few spurious ones to boot, just trying to get exams in an accessible format.”
To sign the petition, click here.