BATA chair Mark McClusker hails ICT's official exam debut, and the push for inclusion for World Book Day
ExamExams: digital support is at handGood news for students with special educational needs (SEN) that use literacy software in the classroom! A recent change in the regulations by the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ), means that literacy software can now be used in exams to support students with reading difficulties such as dyslexia. These tools can level the playing field with non-dyslexic candidates and it is vital that schools – and students – are aware that this change has been made and that support is available to them.

This is a welcome development and stems from the Coalition Government’s determination to make exams harder by phasing out coursework and modular learning in favour of traditional end-of-year exams which come into effect in 2015.

Students with specific learning difficulties such as dyslexia are typically challenged in exam conditions due to difficulties they may have with their thought processing speed, reading and writing. However, the ability to use reading technology such as text-to-speech software (which reads aloud text from the screen) in exams will certainly help.

Text-to-speech software aids a dyslexic student’s comprehension of on-screen text and reduces some of the problems that they would face without it. In the past students were able to have a human reader for many public examinations, apart from in the section of the English exam which assesses reading. Now students are able to use literacy software to read the text, even in the reading assessment as it has been ruled that the technology allows the student to act “independently”.

March 21 deadline for student reading assessments

To be eligible to use text-to-speech software in exams it must be seen as the student’s “normal way of working” which means that it is used regularly in the classroom and in previous school tests. Students must also ensure a reading assessment has been completed within 24 months of the exam and that the request for access arrangement is submitted in time (by the March 21, 2013 deadline).

The reading assessment will determine the level of support the student needs and, depending on the results, they may also have the option to use a spell-checker and a homophone checker (to help distinguish between words which sound the same but have different meanings – eg there and their) in the examination.

Dyslexia isn't a symptom of low intelligence but a specific learning difficulty that affects skills associated with language. For example, in an exam a dyslexic student may get stuck on decoding a single word when they could have spent that time answering the question.

Reading software can help by removing this barrier and freeing the student to get on with the task at hand. It also helps them to become more independent which is vital when it comes to college, university and the workplace.

World Book Day with a difference – reaching children with literacy difficulties  

Mark McCuskerWorld Book DayMark McCusker: chair of BATA on March 7 is an annual event to encourage children to read for pleasure. In the next few weeks 14 million excited children in the UK and Ireland will be receiving their £1 book voucher to exchange for one of eight featured books. Titles include; Horrid Henry’s Guide to Perfect Parents by Francesca Simon and Tony Ross; Weird World of Wonders’ Funny Inventions by Tony Robinson; and The Chocolate Box Girls: Bittersweet by Cathy Cassidy (full list on website).

For the 17 per cent of school children (according to the Department for Education) who have some form of SEN such as dyslexia, reading may not be as much fun. So some of us supporting this year’s event are looking to change this and reach all children, including those with reading difficulties such as dyslexia.

My own company, Texthelp. is making provision for those with SEN who struggle with reading to get 15 per cent off Texthelp’s text-to-speech software, Read&Write GOLD, which is designed to improve reading and writing and aid comprehension of on-screen text (details on how to apply below). The software can be used with books in HTML, PDF, or iPad format or with Bookshare e-books (from one of the world’s largest online libraries to support individuals with dyslexia or visual impairments).

World Book Day vouchers can also be claimed as a discount for e-books costing more than £2.99 at participating shops, or alternatively books can be scanned and read back by the software.

World Book Day provides an excellent opportunity to improve literacy levels in children. With 14 million school children in the UK and Ireland receiving a £1 book token, it will encourage them to read and take enjoyment in reading.

Mark McCuskerMark McCusker is chairman of the British Assistive Technology Association (BATA) and CEO of Texthelp.


World Book Day software offer: As part of World Book Day you can claim 15 per cent off Read&Write GOLD on the offer web page by entering the promotional code WBDMar13.