BATA calls for student assessments to move online

07 April 2020

BATA urges the Department for Education and Student Loans Company to back efforts to introduce online diagnostic assessments. 

BATA is concerned that over 16,000 students in higher education with a specific learning difficulty (SpLD) will not be able to access the support they need to study during and after the Covid-19 emergency.  

With UK universities closed and social distancing in place, face-to-face diagnostic assessments by educational psychologists cannot be carried out. Diagnostic assessments provide crucial medical evidence in identifying the 38% of disabled students with a SpLD and ensuring they receive appropriate support via Disabled Student Allowances (DSAs). 

Therefore, we call on the Department for Education and Student Loans Company to remove the confusion surrounding the viability of remote assessments, or to temporarily suspend the requirement for medical evidence of SpLD for students applying for DSAs during this time.

BATA believes that during this period of remote learning, disabled students' reliance on essential assistive technology will be greatly increased, meaning that any delay or suspension of services will heighten the negative impact on these students.

The SpLD Assessment Standards Committee (SASC) maintains that “there is not, at present, a viable online alternative that maintains the quality and consistency of diagnostic assessment practice”. The Committee, which provides guidelines for diagnostic assessments, is however talking with publishers about how an alternative might be developed.

SASC raises a number of objections to online assessment. At the top of the list is the need to preserve the copyright of companies that have developed tests. The Committee also has concerns around cheating: students could retain copies of online tests, which presumably could be passed to others.

Assessments, says SASC, could also be affected by shortcomings in online communication: poor sound, interrupted connections and stress caused by the complexity of the technology. In addition, SASC highlights the difficulty of putting students at ease and the effect of the presence of parents on someone undergoing an assessment.

BATA acknowledges that an online diagnostic assessment will never be as good as a face-to-face one. However, to suspend all diagnostic assessments means that students applying for DSAs this spring and summer will have no way of establishing they have a SpLD, and as a result no way to access the essential tools they need to study effectively.

We are confident that many of the objections could be overcome. Indeed, the Educational Guidance Service (EGS) is trialling and testing its online assessment process with a number of institutions, and is willing to consult with SASC and other practitioners in the sector on approaches to assist students with a disability in the current crisis.  EGS is convinced that online assessment can be introduced as a temporary measure during the current crisis.  

In every sphere of life, the country is currently being asked to adapt and innovate.  BATA believes that those involved in diagnostic assessment and those with authority in the Department for Education should also rise to the challenge and continue to serve the largest group of disabled students by pressing ahead with online assessment or providing an alternative solution to ensure disabled students continue to receive the support they deserve and are entitled to.

John Lamb

Executive Director