High levels of concern are being expressed on Twitter about the equality implications of arrangements for the BTPC examinations, which are to be taken in August online either remotely or in a test centre. In particular, “Students Against the BSB Exam Regulations” (SABER) have posted multiple messages indicating that students with disability-related requirements for reasonable adjustments have been placed at the back of the queue as regards booking examination arrangements, and are finding their reasonable adjustments under threat.
SABER wrote to the BSB on 1 June asking that the BTPC exams be made open-book with breaks and referring to equality-related concerns arising from the requirement, if examinations were to be undertaken remotely and on-line, that students have access to good wifi, uninterrupted, for three hours at a time. The letter also complained that women would be particularly disadvantaged by the inability to leave their computers even for a toilet break and that those with caring responsibilities would suffer a “severe and unjustifiable detriment” if their examination was automatically terminated in the event of their having to respond to an interruption. It expressed concern that disabled students might be required to sit the test at a Pearson VUE or other exam centre, being exposed thereby to “an increased risk of contracting COVID-19” and a risk of being blocked from taking the examination if such centres were closed on public health grounds. The letter also made reference to concerns about accessibility of test centres to students with disabilities and to the travel required in order to attend such centres.
Detailed guidance published by the BSB on 29 June (link to subsequently amended guidance here) made it clear that the only adjustment which would be available to students sitting the examinations other than in test centres would be additional time. This being the case, such students were required to book the examinations at a test centre or to defer until December. At that stage, centre bookings had to be made by phone. The BSB issued a statement on 3 July 2020 in which it suggested that “the vast majority of students are now booking their exams successfully” and that “Booking for remote proctoring is already open, booking for test centres will open later to allow us to prioritise those who need reasonable adjustments”. It also stated that “No student should be asked to waive a reasonable adjustment” and that “If students engage with providers, the solution that best suits them will be arranged wherever this is possible”.
SABER’s tweets indicate, however, that students entitled to reasonable adjustments were experiencing extensive delays (hours at a time, while being charged up to $3/minute) when attempting to contact Pearson VUE. On 9 July the BSB announced that such bookings could be made online. But by the time many students were able to make contact, it appears that places available at test centres were very limited with the effect that they were unable to secure arrangements suitable to their needs. Examples included one student whose reasonable adjustment was to avoid mornings who was provided with two morning test slots; another whose adjustment precluded a gap of only a day between papers reported having been booked with a one day gap and an 8am slot; a third who reported having been given two 8 am exams only a day apart in a city other than their own and a fourth who was provided with three 8am exams in a city three hours from her home.
Some international students reported being asked to pay to access test centres abroad (£170 in Mauritius), another that internet access at home in Tanzania was sporadic and local test centres shut. Students reported that records of their agreed adjustments had gone astray and a hijab-wearing students that she was being required to show her ears for ID purposes without any assurance that she would not be viewed by men while so doing.
On 12 July “BTPC students” tweeted that students with reasonable adjustments had been contacted to say that “they had to agree to waive certain RAs or wait to hear if providers could run exams on campus”. One student tweeted that, in order to book their exams, they had had to waive their right to grammar and spell checks for their ethics exam. And on 16 July SABER published the text of a letter said to be from Pearson VUE in which a student is advised that her exams have been “booked … to the nearest date and time as requested” but “could not get a seat as per your plan”, asking the student to “cooperate”. The tweet states that the student was seeking a longer gap than had been provided between her exams because of a medical condition. Other tweets refer to the BSB’s statement on 14 July 2020 that “Students should not contact the BSB about their examination arrangements as we are not in a position to discuss these with individuals”. According to SABER, “A large and growing number of students in our whatsapp group have reported waiving adjustments out of desperation to get the exams done – or feeling compelled to defer until December despite the detriment this will cause”.