A lot has happened since I last posted on this forum, including an unsuccessful, but very illuminating, appeal to Reading School. The following is an account of what has happened so far. It is longer than I had intended, but I sincerely hope that by including as much detail as possible, it is more likely to be of help to those who may follow in our footsteps.
I would like to extend my grateful thanks for the wealth of information I have obtained from postings on this excellent forum and also for the help and support of its moderators. In particular, I would like to thank, Etienne, stevew61and KenR for their invaluable help over the last few months.
Leading Up to the Exam
My DS was diagnosed with moderate to severe dyslexia only about 6 months before the Reading School 11+ exam, to be taken in November 2007. The Educational Psychologistâ€™s report we obtained indicated that he is a very bright little boy. However, it also highlighted â€˜problemâ€™ areas that accounted for some of the difficulties he had been having, especially with literacy.
On registering him for the exam, he was granted 25% extra time for all papers on the basis of this Ed Psych report. In addition, by means of a phone call to the school, a verbal assurance was received that he would be allowed to mark the question paper â€˜lightlyâ€™ during the exam. This assurance was sought for two reasons. One was that it would enable him to use the range of strategies that he was being taught to help get round his dyslexia. The other was that we were aware of an instance in the past where the school had said that marking of the papers would be allowed and then reneged on this.
The Day of the Exam
Everything ran smoothly until the very start of the tests. At this point, DS (along with all the other candidates) was instructed that he was not allowed to mark the question paper in any way. It later became apparent that this caused him severe anxiety at a critical moment and also prevented him from using the strategies that were vital to him. He had clearly felt very unsettled by this completely unexpected development. He was, after all, a little boy, on his own in a strange environment. It was a very intimidating situation for him.
Deciding to Appeal
With invaluable help and support from moderators on this forum, a case was prepared which was strongly supported by his Primary School. It focused on:
1. how DS must have felt when he realised that he was not allowed to mark the papers and the effect this must have had on him;
2. why Reading School had given an assurance over the phone that marking the papers was allowed and then prohibited this on the day.
The Day of the Appeal
Reading School had 17 appeals this year. The hearings were held over 2 days.
The appeal was scheduled to last for 40 minutes but it actually took about an hour. The Panel was very open, not intimidating in any way, and the Clerk was very efficient. The Governors were represented by the Head. Both my husband and I attended and my husband presented our case.
The appeal opened with the Head giving the case for the Governors. He focused on over-subscription, only referring to the issue of DS not being able to mark the paper in the very last part of his speech. He acknowledged that this had happened, but seemed to take the view that it was a fairly minor and unfortunate event. Some of the questions the panel addressed to him regarding numbers on the role were fairly obvious and ones that we would have asked. The Clerk explained later that this bit is pretty much the same for every appeal.
At this stage of the appeal, the Head drew attention to DS's ranking (obviously nowhere close to the first 100 places). Presumably his point was that DS was not even close to gaining a place. We challenged this, pointing out that although he was over 30 marks off, the process of normalisation means that this is a much smaller number of incorrect answers. We asked 'how many incorrect answers would have needed to be correct for DS to have been offered a place?' The panel caught on to the logic behind this even though there was no simple way of answering the question.
We had prepared a script based on our written submission to the Panel. We did this so that we could gauge how long it would take and also to make sure we did not miss anything out. It also allowed us to highlight where particular emphasis was needed. My husband undertook to read the script to the Panel.
One question that we asked was 'why were none of the boys allowed to mark the papers?' The Panel picked up on this and one member demanded to know why the school does not allow this (a question we had really wanted to ask from day one!). The Head provided 3 answers:
(1) the assessment is meant to test mental abilities
(2) we treat all people with dyslexia equally - ie the 25% extra time (irrespective of the degree of dyslexia)
(3) it is the parents' fault for not asking specifically for him to be allowed to do so (if we had then this would have been OK)
There followed some discussion about the fact that no-one had a record of the phone call where we were given the verbal assurance - the Panel queried the school policy about keeping records of such calls. The Head admitted that there were no special instructions regarding this.
Under the DDA the school has a responsibility to be â€˜proactiveâ€™ in determining what arrangements need to be put into place. We made the case that a blanket 25% extra time was not sufficient. We felt that the Ed Psych report pointed to specific weaknesses and that for our DS being able to mark the paper was very significant. There followed some discussion on what might be meant by 'proactive' in making arrangements for candidates with disabilities. Specifically, should the school have read through the Ed Psych report in detail and then either offered what arrangements they thought might be needed or actively engaged with us to find out our opinion on this.
The Panel also appeared to catch hold of the idea that it must have been quite disturbing for DS to have been told he could not mark the papers and seemed quite sympathetic to that.
Closing for the Governors, the Head made it clear that, Reading School felt under no obligation to do any more than it considered necessary for boys with special needs who sit the 11+ exam. Regarding our DS, he queried â€˜whether he would be able to 'keep up' if he gained a place. The impression he gave was that Reading School was a place for educating bright boys without the inconvenience of a disability (although he did say that if any disability was picked up after a boy had gained a place, he would be well supported). Our reply was that, if our son was bright enough to be there, it was up to the school to put appropriate measures in place so that he had an equal opportunity to achieve his full potential. Obviously, we also made it very clear that he would have our full support.
We closed by emphasising that DS is very intelligent and in that our opinion he would best be able to fulfil his potential with the sort of education offered by Reading School. In making this appeal we were acting in what we believed were HIS best interests.
Following all the appeals, the Panel met in private to consider their merits and to make decisions. Two days later, we received a letter stating that our appeal had been unsuccessful. We were informed that the Panel considered that the schoolâ€™s admissions policy had been properly and reasonably applied and that the school had acted reasonably in simply allowing the 25% extra time. The Panel also decided that the evidence we presented did not outweigh the prejudice to the â€œefficient education and use of resourcesâ€