How can I ensure that access arrangements are fair?

In this ‘Ask the expert’, Liz Twist, Head of Assessment Research and Product Development at NFER and former teacher, answers some FAQs on access arrangements.

How do I decide who needs access arrangements?

The purpose of access arrangements is to ‘level the playing field’, as far as possible, for as many pupils as possible. Some will need some adjustment or support to ensure that they are able to participate in lessons. This could be having a little more time to finish their work compared to their peers or having someone writing their answers for them, for instance.

It is the children who have some sort of classroom adjustment that you will want to consider when thinking about access arrangements for tests.

How can I ensure that access arrangements are fair?

When access arrangements are used, the intention is to reduce the impact of aspects that aren’t being assessed in order to get the best measurement of the skill or area of learning that is the focus of the assessment. For example, in the assessment of mathematics skills, we don’t want a pupil’s poor reading ability to interfere with the assessment and so a reader may be deployed to ensure that the pupil can access the questions. But it would be inappropriate – and unfair – if a reader were used in a reading test. In this case, reading skills are the focus of the assessment.

How can I make access arrangements work best in my classroom?

First of all, you need to consider which classroom adjustments the pupil or pupils are most familiar with and investigate whether these are permissible as access arrangements. For national curriculum assessments, more information is provided in the Access and Reporting Arrangements guide (see KS1 and KS2), published annually by the Standards and Testing Agency (STA). For standardised tests, guidance should be provided in the teacher guide or manual.

One commonly used arrangement is completing the assessment in another room, away from the class, where a pupil can ask for some words or questions to be read aloud without disturbing the rest of the class. If this is a familiar way of working for the pupil then this may enable him or her to access the support they need. On the other hand, if he or she is unused to being apart from the class or the adult is unfamiliar, it may be unsettling and counterproductive.

Similarly, additional time is another frequently used access arrangement. It is up to the pupil’s teacher, who knows him or her best, to decide if extra time is required. If the pupil finds the assessment challenging, additional time will not necessarily be beneficial. 

When providing additional time, it can be preferable for the pupils with additional time to start the assessment earlier than the rest of the class so that they all finish at the same time.

Written by Liz Twist, Head of Assessment Research and Product Development at NFER

With over 20 years’ experience in assessment development and research, Liz leads the teams developing NFER’s popular assessment products and research. She has also previously worked as deputy head of a combined school and taught both primary and secondary school pupils.

Do you have a question on assessment that you’d like to put to one of our assessment team? Send it through to us at