New English GCSE shows ‘breathtaking ignorance’ of dyslexia, teacher says

The reformed English literature GCSE will discriminate against pupils with dyslexia and special needs because of the government’s “breathtaking ignorance” of these conditions, an English teacher has said.

In an open letter to education secretary Nicky Morgan, blogger and teacher Mary Meredith claims that the new English GCSE contravenes the 2010 Equality Act.

Ms Meredith, a Lincolnshire senior leader in charge of inclusion, writes that pupils with conditions such as dyslexia, which affects verbal memory, will be disadvantaged by the reformed exam.

She argues that the new GCSE will not allow pupils with special needs “to fully demonstrate their knowledge, skills and understanding”.

The new GCSE includes a closed-book test, for which pupils will be expected to have memorised 15 poems, “in complex and often ambiguous language, and drawn from a range of socio-historical contexts,” Ms Meredith says.

These poems must be memorised well enough for at least one to be analysed from memory during the exam. “A difficult task for all,” Ms Meredith writes in her blog. “An impossible one for the minority we ought to be more concerned about.”

The new GCSE qualifications will be taught from 2016, but schools aiming to offer a course over three years could begin teaching them in September.

The exams watchdog Ofqual has already admitted that standards for the reformed maths GCSE have been set at the wrong level, and has instructed exam boards to draw up new questions. And, last week, TES revealed that Ofqual will also be running extra checks on the level of difficulty for the reformed science exams.

Under the terms of the 2010 Equality Act, Ofqual must allow reasonable adjustments to be made for children whose disability places them at a disadvantage in any given exam. In the case of a closed-book test, this would involve providing the full texts for children with impaired verbal memory, according to the Equality Advisory Support Service, cited in Ms Meredith’s blog.

If an adjustment is refused, an explanation must be offered as to why it is deemed unreasonable. “Crucial here is the fact that Ofqual has not given an explanation as to why the provision of the text in full would be an unreasonable adjustment,” Ms Meredith says.

“The explanation given is that closed-book assessment is the only way the regulator can be confident that the whole text has been read. Again, I’m sure you can see the flaws in this logic. If, indeed, it can be called logic.”

A government analysis of the reforms, conducted in March 2013, raised concerns from disability-rights groups. Ms Meredith points out that the report cites concerns from such organisations about the suitability of closed-text exams for children with memory-recall problems.

The government’s report, she says, “reveals breathtaking ignorance about the nature of this type of disability. We are reminded that rest breaks and access arrangements such as extra time can be put in place to level the playing field.”

Addressing the education secretary, she adds: “I hope you can see that no amount of extra time will correct a memory deficit.”

Ofqual declined to comment.

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