Exam boards could be asked to avoid using complex language in some assessments in a bid to make them more accessible for pupils.
Ofqual has published proposed guidance to help exam boards design exams that are fairer for pupils with disabilities or from particular backgrounds.
England’s exams regulator suggests that some pupils could be “unfairly disadvantaged by irrelevant features” in exams that might stop them from demonstrating their full knowledge, skills and understanding.
These learners include pupils who are deaf, blind and who have English as an additional language, who might be less familiar with colloquialisms, humour or customs included in exams, as well as pupils who are unfamiliar with the cultural context of a task, like a certain cultural, family, or travel experience.
Some pupils on the autism spectrum and pupils with learning difficulties such as dyslexia could also be disadvantaged, according to Ofqual’s consultation.
Under the proposed guidance, exam boards are advised to use straightforward language in tasks that are not assessing the understanding of complex language – such as assessments of numerical skills.
It says the use of abstract nouns, colloquialisms, metaphors, idioms and sarcasm could also be avoided.
Exam boards should also consider that placing more demanding tasks at the beginning of the exam might “demotivate” some learners and prevent them from fully demonstrating the required knowledge in the rest of the exam, the draft guidance says.
It adds that source text or materials in an exam should not “use unnecessary negative, narrow or stereotypical representations of particular groups” – and they should “not advantage or disadvantage” any group of learners by focusing on a particular socioeconomic context.
Exam boards should be sensitive to contexts that will not be equally familiar to all learners – such as particular types of housing or family arrangements – and try to ensure no particular group of students is disadvantaged, it says.
The consultation on the proposed guidance, which opened on Monday, will close on January 24.
Dr Jo Saxton, Ofqual’s chief regulator, said: “The best interests of students are the compass that guides us.
“We regulate so that assessments enable every student to demonstrate what they know, understand and can do – without unnecessary barriers.
“It is crucial that assessments are as accessible as possible for all students.”
Natalie Arnett, senior equalities officer for school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “It’s important that Ofqual ensures it considers the range of learners and seeks to put in place proactive measures to address any disadvantage or differing impact they may face.”