Exam reasonable adjustments denied

by Tim Tonkin

The BMA has intervened after an error in the 2021 foundation programme applications process resulted in disabled students being denied the adjustments they need to sit their SJT (situational judgement test) exams.

Location: UK
Published: Tuesday 1 December 2020
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Dozens of final-year students seeking to apply to next year’s foundation programme have reacted angrily after learning that their requests for adjustments to their SJT exams had not been fulfilled.

Since the SJT booking window opened on 9 November, the BMA has received a significant number of calls and enquiries from disabled final-year medical students concerned about how their foundation programme applications might be affected.

As a result, the association has warned the UKFPO (UK Foundation Programme Office) that it could be in breach of requirements under equalities legislation to promote equality of opportunity and prevent disabled students from suffering unlawful discrimination.

In a series of concerns shared with the UKFPO, the BMA warned the allocation process could discriminate against disabled candidates who would have to rebook slots for unadjusted exams they had had to cancel.

It further stated that students forced to sit a rebooked exam in a distant location would potentially be jeopardising their health owing to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Speak out

The BMA has called for the UKFPO to review all applications involving requests for adjustments and ensure candidates be able to either sit the exam at their first-choice location or be able to complete the test remotely.

BMA medical students committee co-chairs Becky Bates (pictured above) and Tinaye Mapako said the association would continue to speak up on behalf of students to ensure that they were not unfairly penalised.

They added that the errors in ensuring reasonable adjustments for those candidates requiring them, was yet another example of the disruption medical students had had to contend with during 2020.

They said: ‘The BMA was bitterly disappointed to learn of the problems with the SJT bookings process which have caused unacceptable disruption at a pivotal time for many students.

‘The issues have meant many disabled medical students have been denied requests for reasonable adjustments so that they can properly attend and sit the SJT, while many students will now have to travel out of their region in the middle of a pandemic.

‘The UKFPO has now committed to resolving the issues, and we are hopeful that they will find a solution in consultation with the BMA so that students can be confident that they are being treated appropriately based on their health needs and requirements, that they are also given a fair opportunity to book slots near to them, and that they are communicated with in good time.'

They added: ‘Since the start of the pandemic medical students have been hard hit by the knock-on effects of COVID disruption. From early graduation and provisional registration, to students being confined in halls of residence, and now frequent issues with foundation programme applications.

‘Going forward, it is crucial that more is done to ensure learning is not negatively impacted because of COVID and that the wellbeing of students is not merely an afterthought.’

Stressed and upset

The failure to arrange reasonable adjustments to SJTs comes as the UK observes Disability History Month, an event which since 2010 has sought to focus on the history of disability rights and the struggle for legal and social equality.

Applications to the foundation programme are half based on a student’s degree and educational achievements, with the remainder determined by their score in an SJT.

An applicant’s score determines where their rotations will be based and what medical specialties they will be able to access.

Formerly administered by the Medical Schools Council, responsibility for the SJT process now rests with private firm Pearson Vue.

The UKFPO confirmed that a data error resulted in applicants who had sought reasonable adjustments to the exam process not receiving these and issued a formal apology for ‘the stress and ongoing upset’ this had caused.

Support drive

In a message dated 27 November, UKFPO co-chairs Professor Tom Lawson and Mike Masding cited that while some students had ‘initially misunderstood the requirements of the application process’, their organisation would be seeking to provide support for those affected.

They stated that UKFPO would contact applicants individually to confirm whether they have been approved for reasonable adjustments.

They also sought to reassure students planning on sitting the exam remotely that they would not be penalised for any loss of internet connection during the test, provided their equipment had been appropriately tested in advance.

The BMA has a range of wellbeing and support services to support all doctors and medical students, details of which can be found here.

The BMA is also keen to make sure that students' experiences of these difficulties is also taken into account – please get in touch via [email protected], so the BMA can take concerns of how this was run, and how it affected you, directly to the UKFPO.