University of Edinburgh

Practical Support Strategies for Deaf Pupils involved in SQA National Qualifications

Presented on Thursday 25 January 2007

A CSW's experience

I would like to relay an experience working as a Communication Support Worker at a college of Further and Higher Education.

Throughout the academic year 2004 – 2005 I provided full time communication support for a student whose first language is BSL. This meant that I supported every class and was present to sign questions on continuous assessment papers. At the end of the academic year an external SQA written exam was required to be taken by the student.

Although there were numerous deaf students in the college receiving communication support no support system for the CSWs was in place. As I had not previously provided communication support for an SQA examination, I sought advice from the SQA website. One thing that I gleaned was that the CSW was allowed to view the paper beforehand, with a colleague, to discuss any possible problems with the signing of the exam questions.  I presented this information to the Head of Subject’s department and this was allowed to take place.

No discussions or arrangements were made with me or the student prior to the exam as per the SQA guidelines however we both clearly understood that exam questions only were to be signed if required.

During the exam I was asked by the candidate to sign some questions. As I proceeded to do this the invigilator approached me and asked “what I was doing?” I explained my position and the invigilator then left the examination room. Later she returned and asked me to follow her out of the room as “someone wanted to speak to me on the phone”.

The telephone was in the busy main reception at the college. I was given the gentleman’s name and informed of his exalted position within the college. He asked me to explain what was happening in the examination room; his tone was accusing and offensive. I explained the position, that I was a CSW who was present throughout both the student’s class work and exams. I explained that the student communicated using BSL as her first language and not English. He replied with “Can’t she read?!”  I then refused to deal with the matter and said that it must be handed over to my Head of School.

As this was the first part of a two part examination the matter was resolved before part two took place. This incident caused a great deal of distress to me, my colleagues and by no means least to the student. I think that this situation could have been avoided if college management was made aware of CSWs roles and had Deaf Awareness training.

I also think that it would be of great benefit to deaf students if CSWs were trained in SQA examination procedures.