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Examination oral work

Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Education (HMIE) published Improving Scottish Education in 2009 and stressed that 'children and young people are entitled to personal support to enable them to  review their learning and plan for next steps'.

This understanding of individual need is particularly helpful for pupils who stammer whose parents have long been concerned about their speech needs being met in oral tasks and who tell the BSA that personal support, when it is offered in a school, has been very valuable.

When the pupil who stammers has been supported since S1, and is able to contribute to oral work without anxiety, there may be no special concerns in S4.

However, the oral work of the English and Modern Languages public examinations, such as Standard Grade examinations, usually causes concern to pupils who stammer and must be approached through long term planning to achieve the best results.

If the student has the support of a speech and language therapist, then that professional will be able to offer helpful advice and/or provide information for the teacher or the Examination Board about the effects of stammering on an oral presentation.

If the pupil has been supported since joining the school and problems have been addressed as they arise, then he is most likely to approach his oral work in a positive way, participating successfully. 

Standard Grade English

In English, the teacher sets and assesses the oral component within the criteria set by SQA, with some external moderation. If a good relationship has been built up, the student who stammers can discuss the best approaches that would help him to reach his potential.

There is no substitute for good preparation and knowledge of the task, and sometimes students who stammer may be so scared of the prospect of oral work that they refuse to think about it in advance and neglect the essential planning. 

Sometimes, the student who stammers has the advantage of understanding the skills of communication from speech and language therapy: for instance managing body language and inter-acting effectively with other pupils.

The BSA knows of pupils who stammer, sometimes quite severely, who have achieved a good grade by delivering an oral task with good content and ideas, and communicating effectively. 

The criteria for the award of the grade 1 or 2 Credit level to a candidate do mention that 'expression was fluent'. At Foundation and General Level, fluency is not mentioned.

The BSA regrets that fluency is mentioned in this context as it is a very technical term and difficult to define as speech and language therapists will testify.

The emphasis should be on the communication skills of the candidate and considering those primarily in the assessment of the pupil who stammers might assist the English teacher. 

It would be surprising if SQA needed to be contacted about the oral assessment of the pupil who stammers, as there is sufficient flexibility in the guidance for the oral tasks and their assessment to allow the teacher to make adaptations if required within the framework of 'Discussion and Individual Talk'.

The Examination Board gives the English teacher the discretion to manage the oral task to help the pupil to be as relaxed as possible. Group work may take place in a friendship group and all pupils are allowed to deliver their individual piece within a set word limit, rather than the prescribed time that can cause stress.

The English teacher should strive to work with the pupil to ensure effective participation in the oral work. If a speech and language therapist is able to offer ideas and assistance that can be most helpful. 

In the first video clip Alan, who is now in S3, is working with another pupil in a planning session for a discussion. This opportunity to practise in S3 before the assessments in S4 gives the opportunity to build up confidence and set targets for improvement. In the second video in S4, Alan explains how time to prepare for a talk helps him. 

The BSA is aware that changes to the examination system may mean that many more pupils do not get formally assessed in their oral skills in English external examinations.

However, even if that is the case, the value of developing these during their school career is important for later life for all young people, so schools will be working on that assumption and need to continue support for the pupils who stammer. 

Standard Grade Modern Languages 

The Speaking component in SQA Modern Languages is internally assessed with external moderation. The criteria require assessment of a prepared talk in the language of no more than two minutes, a conversation of no more than five minutes and a role-play of a maximum of five minutes.

These time constraints could cause anxiety to the pupil who stammers, as they usually prefer to be given a word limit rather than a time and the teacher might consider that as a means of deflecting a sense of rushing.

If it is necessary to contact SQA about that sort of adjustment, then it should be done in good time before the final assessments in S4, and it could be helpful to seek the support of the speech and language therapist in explaining the need for an adjustment. 

The key to achievement in oral work for the student who stammers is good relationships with his subject tutors right from the start and the support of a key tutor as mentor to whom difficulties can be mentioned before they escalate. These should have built up the confidence and self-esteem of the student and help him to manage his speech. The support of the peer group will become increasingly significant and their acceptance of stammering speech is part of the challenge for the inclusive school. 

Omission of the oral component

The decision by some schools, in the recent past, to exclude the pupil who stammers from submitting an oral component in English or Modern Languages is out of step with the expectation that staff will work with the pupil, and any outside agency, to adapt curricular requirements to allow for participation. When this good practice is in place, the student who stammers should be able to achieve in the oral work, according to ability.


  • Be as flexible as the Examination Board allows in adapting the oral tasks for the pupil who stammers. 
  • Consult the Examination Board early on to take advice about applying for any significant adaptation. 
  • Encourage the pupil who stammers to build up confidence in oral work from S1. 
  • Talk with the student throughout and take advice from the therapist if one is involved.

In S3 Alan, who stammers, works with another pupil to plan and practise a discussion in the English lesson.