Tom Genillard, Sociology and Criminology Subject Advisor
I recently read an article on the increase in approved access arrangements for GCSE, AS and A Level students. It got me thinking that during a busy school day, teachers can’t always find the time to consider each of their students’ extra needs and whether their preparations for assessments is the correct approach for that individual.
Trend information on the number of access arrangements during the 2021 to 2022 academic year is published on the UK government website.
Reflecting on my past teaching career, it occurred to me very early on I had a clear interest in supporting students with these interventions to achieve in my subject of sociology. Subsequent CPD and meetings followed, as I often found other indicators of under-performance were often linked with this group, such as students entitled to free school meals.
A one-size-fits-all approach on supporting students with these arrangements won’t work, and, depending on the subject, there are different ways of helping students that should be carefully considered.
As we know, sociology and law are predominantly essay-based subjects, and there will always be students who find writing a lot hard. However it’s important to develop skills in spotting other ways to see when a student needs extra help, especially when they don’t ask for it.
In this blog I will share my subject specific tips and techniques to try in the classroom, to make sure this key group of students can unlock their potential and achieve the best they can in their exams. I’ll also look at what to look out for in a student’s behaviour that will convince you they should be tested for the use of access arrangements in time for their exams.
Access arrangements are adjustments agreed before exams for certain students based on evidence that they need some support and that this support is their normal way of working. Everyone should have an equal chance at exam success. Students may not need the same arrangements in all their subjects.
Spotting students who may need extra support is challenging, especially if it hasn’t been identified previously. I’ve noticed that some knowledgeable sociology students for one reason or another can’t quite get their head around something specific, which is at a complete tangent to their normal overall positive performance.
Example of things to look out for:
These could all be signs a student should be tested for access arrangements. Email your SENCo, they will follow it up. It can affect overall school performance.
This seems simple, but always make sure your students are using the exact access arrangements they are entitled to. If you are doing a practice past question for the 24 markers from Section B, Paper 1, students would ideally use around 30 minutes to complete it. So, someone with 25% extra time needs 37.5 minutes. If this spills into your or the student’s lunchbreak, then that’s what needs to happen.
The fine details must be as close to an exam situation as possible, otherwise they won’t be fully prepared.
Tina Abbott, Head of Academic Support and Student Welfare at Long Road College Cambridge backs this up: “If students have access arrangements, they should ensure that they are using them in the correct way. So with extra time, make sure it is factored into the time it takes to answer a question, or when using a reader or scribe, make sure they are used where possible even when they revise, to practise using them.”
We know all sociology teachers and students understand labelling theory and its effects. But sometimes this can be played out in front of you. I’ve previously taught a student who had access to a scribe and 25% extra time but refused to use it due to peer ridicule and feeling that other teachers treated him differently.
If you spot a student worried about using their arrangements, make sure you increase communication by supporting the student in open door private catch ups. They could even give you notes at the end of every class saying what they’ve found difficult to deal with during the lesson. Carefully consider body language and avoid public sarcasm. It might get a laugh, but students won’t admit if you have humiliated them.
Don’t say something in class like “Can anybody help her?”. Instead ask the student to choose a nearby advisor or consultant who they can ask if they are unsure. If they are withdrawing from class interaction don’t ask if they are OK – they’re probably not. Come up with a mutually agreed gesture to let you know they are struggling that day. They will appreciate you changing your approach as a result.
Students must use ALL of their extra time, that’s why they’ve got it. So, each question across the three components should have time plans with students keeping an eye on time, e.g. Q1, Paper 16 marks = 6 minutes, compared with the more common 3 minutes. There’s a detailed guide on the number of points and recommended paragraph structures for larger marked questions on Interchange or on Teach Cambridge Sociology. (Teach Cambridge is our new secure site for everything to do with the qualification, exemplars, examiners reports and accompanying teaching resources. You’ll need a Teach Cambridge login from your exam officer if you haven’t used it before).
In A Level Psychology, where Maths is needed, plan in advance if you need more than one room for mock assessments. Some students prefer to handwrite the maths section even if a computer is their normal way of working.
Along with their time plans, students should have a clear understanding of how many developed points they need, as well as evaluative points when necessary, for each larger marked question. Understanding the difference of developed, under-developed and undeveloped points as well is key.
Students should spend longer on going through the source and the question in their head. They should note down on the exam papers the points and sociologists they aim to use from the hooks in the items. Then they are ready to start their answer using the item.
Likewise in GCSE Citizenship for the J270 Paper 1. The stimulus material uses a collection of things such as photographs, diagrams, tables, extracts from reports, commentaries and speeches and quotations, so students must pay sufficient attention to the stimulus material when answering the questions, and factor that into their extra time.
ExamBuilder is our free question-building platform for a range of our qualifications. You can design your own sociology topic tests, homework activities, and end of year mock exams with ExamBuilder. You can filter by question types or topics or optional topics from both Paper 1 and Paper 3.
The filter option also allows you to select the command verbs students are finding the most tricky, and you can also produce a paper for students with extra time showing their added time on the front cover. Our earlier blog about using ExamBuilder has some great suggestions.
The progress and attainment gaps for long-term disadvantaged students continues to grow. Identify students who receive free school meals or bursaries and those that could be close to being part of those groups and use the same tips and techniques as above.
There’s more info on the current longer-term impact of long-term disadvantage in schools on the FFT Education website.
If you need to check anything around access arrangements from a procedure point of view your exams officer is your first port of call. All of the policies and procedures can be found on the JCQ website.
We have a dedicated team here at OCR who are here to help with access arrangements for A Levels and for Cambridge Technicals.
Listen to our SEND in schools and colleges podcast. Our guests discussed the different areas and types of SEND, the process for diagnosing a person with a condition, EHCPs and how parents and carers can access appropriate support and choose the right school or college for their child.
If you have any questions about sociology, you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, call us on 01223 553998 or tweet us @OCR_Sociology. You can also sign up to subject updates and receive the latest information about resources and support. For psychology, please contact email@example.com, and for citizenship, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
As one of the new subject advisors, Tom is overseeing sociology as well as the exciting upcoming criminology qualification. Previously, he was a teacher for 11 years which included various roles in teaching and middle management leading to his last role, as Head of Human Sciences. In his spare time he loves watching crime documentaries and playing with his two sons.