Accessible Digital Exams

The CALL Centre recently published a report on the use of accessible digital exam papers in the 2010 diet of exams run by the Scottish Qualifications Authority. These papers allow pupils with disabilities to sit the same exams as their peers, but using a computer to type their answers, and where required read the text from the paper, rather than rely on readers and scribes. The report is available from the digital papers web site,

The report highlights the spectacular increase in the number of school pupils sitting exams using digital papers since they were first introduced in a pilot supported by CALL in 2006. Last year 101 centres made 2000 requests for digital papers on behalf of 675 candidates. Compared with 2009, this represents a 71% increase in the number of requests, a 38% increase in the number of centres, and a 60% increase in the number of candidates.

The use of digital papers increases the independence of pupils, who no longer have to be supported by readers and scribes and can lead to financial savings for schools.

The CALL Centre believes that Scotland is the first country in the world to introduce accessible digital exam papers for national certificate exams in schools, but we would be keen to hear about experiences in other countries. Join the discussion on the adapted papers blog at

Digital Exams Training

CALL has two courses on digital exams coming up in March:

  • 24 Mar 2011 – SQA Adapted Digital Papers and ICT for Students with Additional Support Needs
  • 31 Mar 2011 – Creating Adapted Digital Prelims and Resources for Pupils with Additional Support Needs.

Training can also be provided in schools and local authorities. Further information is available in the Training section of the CALL Scotland web site.

A new suite of tests for assessing reading comprehension

At the Scottish Learning Festival last week I attended an interesting seminar on a new (to me) assessment of reading with which I was very impressed. It replaces the Neale Anaylis to some extent.

Maggie Snowling  heads the team which developed this assessment. She is a well known proponent of the links between phonological processing ability and literacy acquisition and highly regarded.

The York Assessment of Reading for Comprehension (YARC) enables teachers to assess their pupils’ reading skills from an early age through to secondary school. It focuses not just on decoding and sight reading, but crucially on reading comprehension.

The assessments at passage level concentrate on reading for meaning, enabling pupils’ reading and reading comprehension to be regularly assessed and progress easily monitored. Questions linked to each passage demand the use of deduction and inference to arrive at the answers, giving teachers vital information about their pupils’ skills far beyond decoding and retrieval of information.

In addition to the passages for pupils, YARC also includes four short tests:

• letter-sound knowledge,

• sound deletion (supported by pictures)

• sound isolation

• early word recognition.

These are specifically designed for five and six year olds, although data will be available for the age range four to seven years. Assessing alphabetic knowledge, phonological skills and word reading, these tests are especially useful at identifying any underlying difficulties in phonological awareness and the acquisition of letter-sounds that could hamper progress in pupils’ reading.

The Passage Reading set comprises two equivalent passages for each year from Reception (P1) to Y6 (P7), each with eight comprehension questions of increasing complexity. A version of GL Assessment’s Single Word Reading Test is also included as a benchmark test.

The secondary reading tests include Passage Reading to assess reading comprehension skills, Reading Fluency and Single Word Reading.

Well worth checking out in my opinion.

Dyslexia Support Service Annual Summary

Assessment: I have been involved in the assessment of 117 pupils this year and have met with the vast majority of the parents of these youngsters (and about 20 others already ‘on the books’) at least once. This is either at Staged Assessment and Intervention (SAI) meetings or more informally to discuss progress and programmes. These assessments and parental meetings are preceded by extensive consultations with colleagues. Once an identification of dyslexia has been made, we usually meet again to discuss any interventions that may be appropriate.

Teaching individuals + small groups: I have worked with individuals and small groups of pupils on working memory skills, Mind Mapping and note making, MS Word Accessibility and strategies for organisation and planning as part of a transition programme for P7’s over the year.

5 children have helped me begin to evaluate the reading and spelling programme, ‘Nessy’. This is such a rich resource that 3 of the children will be continuing work on it next session. This is partly for their benefit of course, but also to allow me to decide whether I should encourage schools to buy ‘Nessy’ for their struggling readers and spellers. This is one of the software packages I was given with my new laptop: So far we are loving it!

Teaching whole classes: I have taught several classes the basics of Mind Mapping using Kidspiration and Inspiration. I worked with a P7 class on higher order reading skills.


Parents’ Meetings: I have spoken to groups of parents at open meetings and presented an in-service session for a school as part of their Dyslexia Friendly Schools Pledge. The focus was on learning styles.

Dyslexia Friendly Schools Pledge: The Pledge itself has had a re-vamp and is now ready to be incorporated into the literacy strategy for the region.

 In-service training: I have led a group of support for learning colleagues to develop user-friendly guidance for using WordTalk and presented this to a group of practitioners at an event organised by LT Scotland. I spoke at my first TeachMeet (for 2 minutes) on this wonderful resource at the Sea Bird Centre

I have given training sessions to colleagues in 2 secondary schools on interpreting the computerised assessment tool and commented on the reports they have prepared subsequently.

Of course I have attended meetings of the Outreach Service and both Clusters too.

This is an up-dated version of the summaryI posted at the end of the Spring term.

Assessing Dyslexia Toolkit launched

New guidelines for identifying children with dyslexia were launched by former racing driver Sir Jackie Stewart on Tuesday. The online “tool kit” , available since January but now open to all, has been created for every teacher: we are all responsible for literacy regardless of our subject or sector. The resource supports the Curriculum for Excellence’s emphasis on literacy and numeracy across learning.

 The Assessing Dyslexia Toolkit for Teachers aims to help teachers and early years workers identify literacy difficulties and dyslexia among pupils. A key target is to spot problems as early as possible so children can be given support and are not disadvantaged educationally.

A key aim of the new guide is highlighting to all class teachers that they are in the best position to identify early indicators of dyslexia and other learning difficulties. It identifies problems teachers should look out for at various stages in a child’s education from pre-school to late primary, right up to senior secondary and college.

Dr Margaret Crombie, who led the team of experts behind the creation of the project from Glasgow Caledonian, Strathclyde and Edinburgh universities, said: “We now have a resource that all teachers can use to help them work through the process of assessment of literacy difficulties.”

It’s superb: check it out.

Assessing Dyslexia Toolkit


An Online ‘Assessing Dyslexia Toolkit’ has been launched. (This notice is somewhat belated. Apologies).

Dr Margaret Crombie, whose teacher’s guide to specific learning difficulties is a classic, has chaired a group which has produced this very useful resource.

Funded by the Scottish Government, the toolkit should help all teachers to identify literacy difficulties and dyslexia. The toolkit will be piloted over the next few months as part of a wider dissemination process.


This is a superb resource – check it out.

Literacy and Numeracy principles from the SQA

Design principles for the new Literacy and Numeracy qualifications have now been published on the SQA website.

The Design Principles were approved by CfE Management Board on 15 December 2009 and are the blue print for developing National Literacy and Numeracy qualifications. They are also the basis for developing quality assurance and certification systems to support these new qualifications.

Adapted Digital Exams

Adapted Digital Exams – East Lothian pilot

Candidates with additional support needs sitting SQA exams, currently have access to a variety of assessment arrangements which allow them to demonstrate their skills and knowledge e.g. reader, scribe or extra time.

A new assessment arrangement has recently become available. This gives candidates an opportunity to sit digitally adapted question papers provided by the SQA. Candidates with difficulty accessing a standard exam paper as a result of visual, physical, reading or writing difficulties, can now insert answers directly on to the question/answer paper on screen and use speech technology to have text read out.

East Lothian secondary schools are piloting adapted digital exams with a number of candidates this session.

CALL Scotland, SQA, East Lothian ICT officers and Inclusion & Equality section are supporting

this development. It is anticipated that Adapted Digital Exam formats will be available to increasing numbers of East Lothian SQA candidates in future.

For further information on Assessment Arrangements see the SQA site.

Thanks to Linda Gaughan (Inclusion and Equality Officer) writing in the ICT Education Newsletter.




Dyslexia Support Service: Termly Up-date

All practitioners in each sector, in each department and in all settings have a responsibility to develop, reinforce and extend the skills which are set out in the literacy experiences and outcomes (Curriculum for Excellence).

Teaching: My remit covers all schools in the region. Therefore I do not – cannot – use my time to teach basic literacy skills, although of course I work with colleagues to support them in meeting the learning needs of individual learners with literacy difficulties. I try to help students learn how to learn better, with the intention that they gradually build up skills which leads to independence. Regular Staged Assessment and Intervention meetings ensure that all learning and teaching is balanced and coherent. At each meeting we assess the effectiveness of our work and build on our knowledge of the child’s needs to plan for the future.

 Many learners find identifying key concepts very taxing. This is especially difficult for some learners with dyslexia who tend to think in global terms – the big picture – rather than noticing the detail (the wood not the trees). This can cause problems when analysing text, whether spoken or read. Mind Mapping is a most effective tool for those learners with visual strengths to plan and organise their thoughts.

I find that teaching a whole class how to make Mind Maps is an effective use of my time. In one school we recognised that two learners with dyslexia in one P3/4 class learnt best through visualisation and the use of images rather than words. We felt that those whose natural style of learning was more verbal, linear and ordered would benefit from the challenge of approaching planning in a different format.

So the class used Kidspiration to prepare a talk to the P1s on Road Safety. After exploring the software they taught others in the class about the various tools (aren’t interactive whiteboards wonderful?). The final assessment was for them to create a Wanted poster of a master criminal outlining the essential things the public should look out for.

Identifying key words is crucial if learners are to progress. The children were repeatedly told that there was no need to write beautifully presented sentences while Mind Mapping. Whether they have taken this radical notion on board is yet to be seen. It always astonishes me that children are so wedded to perfect presentation even when their teachers are very clear that the expectation is of good content not error free writing.

 Three other teaching blocks have also centred on developing note making.

A group of P7s with literacy and organisational difficulties learned how to access text with WordTalk. They listened to texts they found impossible to read but which was at their cognitive level. Highlighting key words was a challenge but when done collaboratively enabled them to make Mind Maps with Kidspiration. These they took back to class as plans for pieces of writing. This work culminated in the creation of an animation about the Solar System – to be processed over the holidays.

I supported another group of p7s in preparing pieces of writing on the theme, Homes of the Future. We viewed a video and designed an estate agent’s schedule describing the technological and environmental aids to support future living. Plans in the form of Mind Maps were put into the class Glow Group and the group used these to write independently in class. I shall continue to work with this group in the new year, not least to consolidate my own understanding of using Glow in a real setting.

A similar group at another school was learning about World War 2. They prepared and delivered a session to the rest of their class demonstrating how to use WordTalk. They now mentor their peers – and their teacher.

A group of P3’s used Clicker 5 to create text from grids about the Ancient Egyptians. I found this a difficult enterprise for various reasons  although the children seemed to enjoy the attention even if they are not empowered to use Clicker independently yet. They were thrilled with the pencils and badges I got from the British Museum. I hope they remember more than these though! I shall return to the school to monitor their progress later in the session.

An individual P5 pupil with significant auditory memory difficulties needed help to focus and follow directions.  He practised listening mindfully, repeating instructions to himself and rehearsing these aloud. He then completed tasks to demonstrate his understanding.

We also worked on creating a safe place (a cave) in his mind to which to retreat when he became stressed. Naturally I spent time with his parents and teachers so that his learning is reinforced at home and in class.

I used a similar approach to work with another 2 pupils in P6 with auditory and visual memory difficulties which caused severe sequencing and organisation problems. This time we identified sources of stress in the morning routine that meant frequent late arrival at school. We made laminated cards and prioritised the morning activities. It took some time to convince the children that watching TV was less crucial than getting dressed! Again, this is a long-term outcome that can only be effective if the child, family and school work together.

The imminence of Standard Grade prelims exams saw me supporting 3 learners with dyslexia who find planning and organising revision a real challenge. A traffic light system helped them identify subjects and topics on which they needed to focus. They made timetables incorporating study as well as leisure time in the weeks prior to the exams. It will be interesting to see whether they achieve greater success as a result of this intervention.

Assessment and Consultation: I continue to use the computerised assessment along with formative assessment to identify needs and design interventions. I have formally assessed and consulted about 25 pupils this term. In addition, I attended Staged Assessment and Intervention meetings with parents and staff for 13 other children.


  • Literacy Strategy sub-group: I am working with 2 colleagues to improve the Dyslexia Friendly Schools Pledge that 5 schools piloted last session. We aim to clarify the language and process of the checklist, make specific links with Curriculum for Excellence, HMIE guidance and current legislation.
  • I liaise with the other literacy strategy sub-groups to ensure ‘joined up thinking’.
  • There is ongoing work with a small working group writing guidance on effective use of the Books for All project.


  • Dorothy Crystal, the optometrist, spoke about her work identifying visual stress.
  • 6 of the 8 modules of the ‘Hidden Dyslexia’ online course completed.
  • Child Protection course.
  • Planning and organisation skills – Occupational Therapy.
  • CfE in practice course.
  • Cluster meetings.

 Once more this has been a busy but fulfilling term.

Dyslexia Support Service termly report


My work is very cyclical. Every element of the Dyslexia Support Service has a different emphasis as the session progresses.

I do most of my face to face teaching in the middle months of the school year, while at the beginning of session I tend to focus on assessment and consultation for future planning. The summer term is always busy organising the service development plan for the coming year and completing programmes of study with young people, attending Staged Assessment and Intervention meetings and evaluating learners’ needs for the new session to follow.


This term my principal focus has been on assessment and consultation.


Assessment: Since August, I have been involved in the assessment of 34 children and young people. Each assessment takes between 2 and 3 hours of my time, not counting the feedback sessions to parents and staff. I use the computerised assessments LASS and CoPS and the British Picture Vocabulary Scale to provide a snapshot of learners’ attainments in literacy, visual and auditory processing, phonological awareness, reasoning and receptive language skills. This complements the observable evidence found in class performance to help us construct a picture of a child’s strengths and difficulties. From here we are better able to develop a personalised programme for each learner. Personalisation does not mean individual learning programmes for each child. Instead it means having a ‘deep understanding of both depth and breadth, creating continuous rich learning opportunities that are real and of their world not apart from their world’. (Greg Whitby)

I spent some time making a short movie illustrating the various components of the computerised assessment. At some point I shall learn how to upload this!


Consultation: I have met with teachers from 20 primary schools and 5 of the 6 secondary schools, most of them at least twice. I have answered emails from many, many more! I have spent some considerable and profitable time with 3 teachers new to Support for Learning. This is such a valuable opportunity for us to learn from each other. One has come from another region and brings a wealth of knowledge about different resources which I can then disseminate. The others have recent experience in the classroom and as such provide a refreshing approach to the support role. I can aid their understanding of the processes involved in identifying learners with dyslexia and help them get to know their pupils’ needs more thoroughly. In one school we took some delight in throwing out ancient resources that bear no relation to the reality of learning and teaching today.

It is at these meetings, and those with parents, that we plan any teaching blocks for later in the year. Sometimes I am not directly involved with individual pupils but support school staff to use alternative strategies to engage learners.


Meetings with parents: I have met 12 sets of parents this term, some of them more than once, to discuss their children’s profiles of learning and ways to address their requirements.


Teaching: This term I have only worked with 3 groups of young people. One block was to help an S4 student in making notes on his Physics and English course work as memory aides for exam revision. I used the same techniques of Mind Mapping (with paper and pens as well as Kidspiration and Inspiration) with the P6/7 class in a small school. My 3rd group of 3 P7s needed support in keyboard skills and shortcuts in word processing.


In-service training: In addition to the regular informal training I offer colleagues during consultation I have tried to raise awareness about dyslexia to newly qualified teachers and to the staff of a primary school so far this session. I contributed to  East Lothian’s Literacy Newsletter and attended meetings to take the Literacy Strategy forward for learners with dyslexia.

For my own professional development, I have read a great deal and attended several talks in my own time, and attended the Scottish Learning Festival, to develop my own knowledge and understanding. I joined Cluster Meetings where all Support for Learning teachers come together to discuss issues and learn about new developments.


It’s been a busy start to session as usual. I’m looking forward to the break. I hope all who read this manage to have one too.


Assessment for Curriculum for Excellence

Assessment for Curriculum for Excellence

Assessment is a key strand of work in implementing Curriculum for Excellence.

At the Scottish Learning Festival on 23 September 2009, the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning, Fiona Hyslop, announced the publication of the strategic vision and key principles for assessment in Curriculum for Excellence.

The Assessment for Curriculum for Excellence document sets out the Scottish Government’s strategy on how to build on our existing strong foundations of effective approaches to assessment.