Abstract Secondary schools in England manage the organisation of access arrangements (reasonable adjustments for those with learning difficulties and/or disabilities) for a significant proportion of General Certificate of Education (GCSE) candidates with little evidence of whether the required systems are effective or, indeed, accurately and comprehensively provide reasonable adjustments to those students who receive them. To investigate this, an action research ethnographic study was undertaken in one representative school to devise a Protocol for the management of student assessment needs. Observations and conversations were recorded in a researcher diary over the two years of the project. Planning and evaluation meetings were held with key school staff and Protocol development and implementation was tracked through record keeping. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with key staff (n=5), and students with access arrangements (n=10) and those without (n=5). Data on access arrangements usage from all students were collected (n=60) through a purpose designed Desk Information and Feedback Form (DIFF). School documents were scrutinised. The school reported that the Protocol was useful and allowed them to more effectively manage the administration imposed by the Joint Council for Qualifications on behalf of the GCSE awarding bodies. Implementation of this effective Protocol required the employment of an additional dedicated member of staff for 600 hours per year. Activity Theory suggests that the untimely and unpredictable changes to the externally prescribed bureaucracy force a schoolâs focus away from their statutory equality duty in respect of student assessment needs towards managing the bureaucratic process. Quantitative DIFF data analysis showed that students allowed access arrangements performed on average at a significantly lower level than those without access arrangements, suggesting that access arrangements may not entirely mitigate performance disadvantage for students with additional needs. Students allowed access arrangements and those without performed at the level predicted by staff, suggesting that access arrangements per se do not, in themselves, confer an unfair advantage. Although 89% of students allowed access arrangements used them at least once, they were used in 39% of examination papers, suggesting that the need for access arrangements is not reliably amenable to prediction through the evidence schools are required to collect and certainly not for particular examination papers. Through use of the DIFF and in post-examination interview, students were able to articulate which of their allowed access arrangements they wanted to use in an examination and to explain why allowed access arrangements were helpful or were not needed. Some students not allowed access arrangements reported, and were observed, needing them. More extensive research is recommended in order to determine the extent to which the need for access arrangements in GCSE examinations is amenable to prediction and, indeed, whether currently prescribed processes for identification are effective. Further useful research priorities include investigations of: time sufficiency in examinations, manageability of the externally prescribed access arrangements bureaucracy, and the overlap between studentsâ assessment needs and special educational needs.