SATs – Why Should You Start Using Assistive Technology at Primary Level Examinations?

I’ve been very fortunate to work alongside Scanning Pens Ltd for nearly 5 years, and in that time I have undertaken a study with a primary aged dyslexic girl.  She is currently in Year 5 and, due to the school’s support of her accessing to the ReaderPen in class, they purchased ExamReader Pens for use throughout the school.  Therefore, it was a natural transition to commence a ‘how are you training your Year 6’s in using the ExamReader for the forthcoming SATs examinations?’ conversation with the SENDCo of the school.

Working with the SENDCo and the Year 6 teacher, who co-ordinates the SATs examination, I am exceedingly privileged to be invited into the school on a weekly basis to support two students who have been using their ExamReader Pens in the classroom environment for approximately 18 months.  Both students are confident with the pen, however, as we know sitting in an exam situation can be entirely different from the relaxed classroom approaches.  It felt to me it was important to have focused sessions on getting the most out of their ExamReader Pens.  I have therefore developed several strategies to help prepare the students, when using their pens, and would like to take this opportunity to share with you.

·       How are you holding your pen?

It may seem an obvious question, but we may sometimes assume the student was having 100% success when scanning a word or line of text so getting back to basics is imperative!  Re-train your student in holding the pen as upright as possible; this will not only enable them to focus on the word or words they wish to de-code but also encourages the student to pause, think, and proceed with an increased success rate of scanning and hearing that word correctly.

·       Have you checked the settings are appropriate to your student’s individual needs?

The ExamReader Pen has some fabulous settings within the Text Reader menu, such as:

Read Delay – will your student benefit from a pause between the pen being scanned and read?

Speed and Volume – ask your student to try different speed settings to see what suits them best.  Ensure the headphones are plugged fully in and the volume is set at a comfortable level.

Word pause – would your student benefit from an increased pause between each word?

Punctuation pause – perhaps a pause when a comma or full stop occurs will enable your student to be confident with the natural rhythm of a sentence or statement?

Take time to go through the menu with your student and ensure the settings are geared towards their individual needs.

·       Practice using the pen in old test papers*.

Nothing increases confidence for the learner then to ‘know’ what a test paper or examination question format is going to look like.  Make use of past test papers or online sites who offer examples of test papers.  However, do note some old test papers make use of ‘italics’ in their questions (which is no longer used) and this can be misread with the ExamReader Pen.  Check what you are offering your students to ensure you are helping and not adding to their exam anxiety.

·       Use the pen in every lesson!

Building habitual behaviours is the way forward, to help the student become increasingly independent and to develop a strategy for their education and their future!  Introduce a system where the pen is readily available to them on their desk in every lesson.  Getting into habits of using the pen with words and large bodies of text to enable them to keep up with their peers is a valuable skill; begin pushing your students to think for themselves and to make the most of their ReaderPen or ExamReader Pen in as many varying situations as possible!

Good luck SENDCos and Year 6 teachers and remember the more actively confident you are with reader pens, the greater outcomes for your students!

Christine Franklin



Our Research Team are about to enter their third year of study with 10-year-old dyslexic participant Hester**.  Hester has been able to help us to answer some of our queries (1) relating to the emotional well-being, self-belief and confidence a young person requires to achieve desired academic results.  Subsequently, enabling the potential for successful integration and attainment in their secondary educational journey.


14% of children with SEN reach the necessary levels of attainment in reading, writing and mathematics, this is in comparison to 62% of non-SEN pupils (2).  This bench-mark enables the pupil to access further education, work and careers.


SEN research is an area of huge potential with sadly little evidence-based studies achieved.  Support of the SEN child is an area teachers and parents wish to encourage.  Many are willing to explore differing approaches to enable favourable outcomes for primary aged children.  Strategies and programmes are in place and yet there appears to be difficulties for the young person accessing and succeeding with these fantastic opportunities.  What is causing this block?  During our research (1) we noted one element of blockage was clearly the emotional well-being and self-belief of the young person.


In 2014 Public Health Britain (3) published a report which included the following statements “pupils with better emotional well-being at seven, score higher in their SATs, than pupils with poorer emotional well-being”.  This statement was first made in 2012 by the Childhood Wellbeing Research Centre (4) (CWRC) who went on to say this relationship did not occur at any other age.


As a subsequence to such reports’ schools developed and encouraged awareness as to the importance of social and emotional use within schools.  However, social and emotional support may have been linked to actual events for a child, such as those in receipt of FSM or a life changing experience.  Social and emotional concepts may have been relegated to a standalone aspect rather than integrated into all areas of teaching including the use of assistive technology for SEN pupils.  What do we mean by such a statement?  To explore this thought let us first consider the CWRC (4) findings that children who ‘enjoy’ school between the ages of 7 and 10 will achieve academically better later in life. 


To enjoy school, one must be confident in their approaches and have self-belief they can and will achieve.  Hester’s confidence has increased immensely since working with assistive technology, the use of which is promoted and encouraged by her school.  However, the school also recognises the emotional well-being of their teachers has a direct impact on the pupil.  If a teacher does not have belief in the technology they are being asked to promote, or perhaps feel their training has not covered the variety of aspects a SEN child may present with, their lack of confidence will feed through to the child.  If the teacher lacks confidence, the child most certainly will. 


Our Research Team wish to promote and encourage the current and future outcomes of their longitudinal study that indicates links between academic success and confidence/happiness with the use of assistive technology and strategies.  A child may achieve and overcome a reading difficulty and pronunciation problems which impact on spelling achievements, keeping up with their peers and develop positive listening skill.  All these aspects can lead to positive attainment results, not only for the school but for the child’s long-term life goals and future adult happiness.  The use of the ReaderPen, for Hester and now several of her peers, is helping to encourage exploration of confidence at an age when the use of equipment is not stigmatised by the children but develops and evolves into positive habitual behaviour.


In conclusion finding and encouraging strategies and technology that enables the child to achieve and gain self-belief will result in the child who actively seeks to read independently, spell, listen and explore their abilities further!


Christine Franklin



** Hester – name used to protect identity of child