IOE - Faculty of Education and Society


Practice around Access Arrangements for Students with SpLDs (PAASS)

This project will investigate the efficacy of exam access arrangements for students with Specific Learning Difficulties (SpLD).

This research project will be of interest to practitioners, academics, families of students with SpLD, examination boards, policy makers, and academics specialising in related disorder groups. To disseminate the research as wide as possible a variety of outputs will be produced.

The researchers will host a knowledge-exchange workshop, sharing information with participatory schools. A guidance document - containing information on how to better implement access arrangements will help schools support students seeking the most effective form of access arrangements - will also be developed.

This project is funded by the Nuffield Foundation and will run from June 2022 to October 2023.




Specific Learning Difficulties, also referred to as SpLD, are a difference or difficulty with particular aspects of learning such as literacy and are one of the highest reported Special Educational Needs (SEN) in secondary schools. Many students with SpLD leave school with poorer grades than their peers. 

Given the challenges these students face in producing written text, current assessment methods that rely on writing are a barrier to performance. Access arrangements, such as the use of extra time in exams, use of a word processor or scribe, aim to support students with SpLD, mitigating the difficulties they face with spelling and writing. 

Research has shown that extra time leads to generally improved outcomes in reading comprehension and maths. However, it is not clear whether this translates to improvements in written tasks. This research will investigate typical school practices and policies around access arrangements for students with SpLD, and the impact of access arrangements on writing, helping to inform evidence-based practice.


Using a mixed-methods approach the research team will be: 

  1. Exploring school policy and practices, the experiences of students with SpLD, SEN Coordinators, and specialist assessors. 
  2. Comparing the performance of students with and without literacy difficulties in standard exam writing conditions versus when using different types of additional support (extra time, word processing, scribe).