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Posted 11th February, 2011 by Melanie Knight

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In many FE colleges Functional Skills have now replaced Key Skills and Basic Skills. The access arrangements for Functional Skills appear to have taken a step further in removing the disadvantages faced by dyslexic candidates sitting formal examinations in FE. As well as extra time, dyslexic candidates (subject to need and normal way of working) are allowed to make full use of assistive technology and a word processor with the spell check facility turned on.

The access arrangements enable dyslexic candidates to demonstrate they can:

  • Independently communicate in a purposeful context using written text without actually having to physically write by hand.
  • Independently decode and understand written language without having to sight read.

In Functional Skills English, the writing component allows the use of voice recognition technology or a word processor with the spell check turned on.  The reading component allows the use of a computer /screen reader. The Basic Skills Adult Literacy test does not allow the use of assistive technology.

The access arrangements for Functional Skills Mathematics are primarily the same as the access arrangements for Basic Skills Adult Numeracy. Dyslexic candidates are allowed the use of a human reader and scribe.

However, the format of certain elements of Functional Skills tests are less favourable to the needs of dyslexic candidates.  The online version of the reading component places a greater demand on working memory than the paper based version. With the paper based test, a computer/screen reader cannot be used. A dyslexic candidate may use a reading pen for the paper based version, but reading pens tend to more appropriate for the reading of individual words rather than complete documents.

The Functional Skills Mathematics tests are wordy and, unlike the Basic Skills Adult Numeracy tests, often require a candidate to show/ or explain a process. It is not sufficient just to find the solution. Many dyslexics can find the solution to a problem more efficiently than non dyslexics, but experience difficulties in demonstrating/ or explaining how they arrived at the solution.

To conclude, the access arrangements for Functional Skills are more practical and allow dyslexic candidates to demonstrate their skills. Unfortunately the format and requirements of certain elements of the tests are likely to create more barriers for dyslexic candidates.

N.B All access arrangements are subject to evidence of need and must reflect a candidate’s needs and normal way of working.

For full guidance on access arrangements for functional skills please refer to pages 46 to 51 of the “Access Arrangements, Reasonable adjustments and Special Consideration General and Vocational qualifications, JCQ (2010/2011) or use the following link: [updated 2017]


  • Anonymous

    I wonder how many colleges know about the changes to access arrangements making functional skills more dyslexia freindly? This may be a topic where we can raise awareness.I am happy that functional skills tests are more demanding than the old literacy and numeracy tests based on multiple choice items. They have far more integrity this way, even though it will take time for colleges and candidates to get used to the style.Keep the comments coming on this.Sue

  • stephanie

    Thanks for drawing attention to these changes and highlighting the impact of Access Arrangements which will need to be considered. JCQ Rules and my Access Training (which focused on exam situation) did not really identify the wider implications for the learner and the teaching and support staff.

  • Mandy-jane7

    I have failed my nvq maths test twice can it be cancelled until i am tested for Dyslexic i struggle with numbers time sequence remembering i pratice evry day

  • Info

    Mandy Jane also emailed the Dyslexia Positive information link. WE are discussing with ther the possibility of a dyscalculia screening and dyslexia assesment

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