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Calling Time on Extra Time

Extra Time Benefits the Better-off: it's Time We Recognise That



Exams are horrible, teeth-grinding ordeals. Counting down the hours until crunch time, we pore over complex formulas and obscure quotes. In the end, we’re predictably ambushed by the one topic we neglected to revise. Given the inherent nastiness of testing, there’s an admirable justification for extra time. Why shouldn’t students with learning difficulties receive support to make exams less harrowing? After all, extra time merely levels the playing field, guaranteeing everyone is equally-armed in the gruelling battle of academic excellence. That’s a nice idea — but utterly wrong-headed. In fact, presenting extra time as egalitarian is a distortion of almost Orwellian proportions. Rather than advancing equality, it entrenches privilege.


Alongside the buffet of benefits afforded by their education, private school students are far more likely to receive extra time than their state school counterparts. Last year’s figures show that 35.8 per cent of private school students received extra time — the figure at state schools is a measly 22.7 per cent. Whilst this undoubtedly contributes to the overperformance of private schools, these adjustments also have knock-on effects. Privately-educated students continue to enjoy extra time at university and in exams taken as part of job applications. In my view, this is nothing more than institutionalised cheating. Relentless in their pursuit of flawless exam results, private schools construe the slightest cognitive weakness into grounds for long-lasting preferential treatment for their students. Certainly, the proliferation of private school pupils suffering from ‘slow processing’ has enabled some very mediocre minds to ascend far beyond the bounds of their natural abilities.


In state schools, things aren’t much better. The middle classes hog all the support and, if they get diagnosed at all, working-class students are usually pigeonholed as having behavioural issues. Whilst there’s obviously a degree of old-fashioned prejudice at work here, the calamitous impacts of helicopter parenting should not be understated. Many affluent parents are obsessed with the academic performance of their offspring. When their little angel isn’t blossoming into the next Da Vinci, they swoop in, demanding explanations. The outrageous suggestion — that the child is simply not that bright — doesn’t wash. After all, what’s the point of all these educational experts if not to indulge the delusions of bourgeois parents?


As the Campaign for Real Education (CRE) has argued, the basis for diagnosing learning difficulties has become utterly unmoored from science. Take dyslexia. Though it was initially assessed through rigorous tests comparing reading ability and intellect, the grounds for receiving a diagnosis have become increasingly muddled. As education has modernised, it has progressed past the need for trivialities like good practice, and caved to the demands of pushy parents. Aided by the proliferation of private clinics, a learning difficulty — and all the extra time it affords — can be purchased on the free market.


Even if we restructured the education system to dissolve these massive biases, I would continue to advocate for a moderate approach to extra-time provisions. After all, what are exams for if not to test our natural abilities? Though some adjustments will always be needed, we should beware of the slippery slope. There’s a convincing argument that increasing exam time for dyscalculics necessitates time deductions for those with superhuman maths abilities. Indeed, though they are observably real, we have yet to identify a neurological basis for most learning difficulties. Rather than forcing a bizarre equality of outcome — where revision becomes the only factor exams can measure — we should accept that we’ll never create a system that erases all natural biases. Granted, it’s not that nice: but at least it's fair.


Certainly this move would be complemented if we stopped pretending everyone thrives in either consulting or banking. We need to overcome the ridiculous stigmatisation of BTECs and restore the prestige of vocational careers. This would drastically reduce the intense pressure currently placed on academic performance, dampening some of the current extra-time madness.


As it stands, the system for allocating extra time isn’t fit for purpose. In seeking to remedy unfairness, it has just ended up reinforcing class divisions. We’re not going to shift the dwindling rates of social mobility if we keep giving the middle classes special treatment. It's time to call time on extra time.


Photo by: Wikimedia Commons

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8 Comments


i genuinely cant believe the nonsense i just read. maybe, private schools have higher levels of students on support plans because they actually have the funding and resources to do so??? this is such an ableist stance to make, have you even done research on why there are higher rates of diagnosis and support now? do you realise that part of the reason is how extremely *under diagnosed* a lot of these conditions are, especially for marginalised groups who may not have had access to support previously. even if you just hated disabled people, this article makes no logical sense and is essentially incomprehensible. this is embarrassing for all of you involve.

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Guest
Nov 12, 2023

Very disappointed in the editorial team for publishing this. Let’s punish those with genuine disabilities to make a political anti-privilege point. Just stand back and think about it. Will ending extra time address privilege or just disadvantage those with genuine needs? Back to the dark ages - dyslexia = stupid. I thought we’d left that far behind. If you want to fight privilege, fight privilege. Don’t fight those with a disability who need different ways to demonstrate their abilities. take a long hard look at yourself in the mirror and ask what this achieves.

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Guest
Nov 11, 2023

It still amazes me that abled people think that they understand disabled issues and accommodations. As someone who was only diagnosed at 18, extra time at university has allowed me to prosper and produce outstanding academic work. There seems to be the narrative at this university (I am doing my masters here, did my UG elsewhere) that accommodating disabled students disadvantages abled students, but this is not the case at all. Equity is a far better policy than equality, just admit that you either do not understand or care about your disabled peers in the first sentence so we do not have to read the rest of incredibly ableist articles in the future.

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Guest
Nov 10, 2023

You came soooo close to recognising access to resources for disabled students including diagnosis is affected by privilege… if you want to reduce class divisions, start there. Is this an incredibly bad hot take or is this just ableist?

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Guest
Nov 10, 2023

This article treads scarily close in stating that by being slow or struggling with aspects of academic demands because of how someone’s brain works they are less intelligent in some way. There are many geniuses out there and very many of said geniuses are actually neurodivergent. Referencing Da Vinci is a rather interesting choice. Although Leonardo was a prized architect and interested in science, the Mona Lisa is one of the most famous paintings in the world, and it is a painting, not a medicine or key to understanding the cosmos. I doubt many parents who are too involved in their child’s success would view art as an equivalent of high academic achievement. Da Vinci was incredibly slow and only…

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