Ireland’s Ombudsman for Children calls for better access to exam support

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The Republic of Ireland’s State Examination Commission (SEC) should issue clear guidelines ensuring fair and timely access to exam support for students who are taking the Leaving Certificate, the country’s Ombudsman for Children has said

Dr Niall Muldoon, was speaking following the publication of a report outlining complaints made in relation to the SEC’s administration of the Reasonable Accommodations for Certificate Examinations (RACE) scheme for students with special educational needs (SEN).

Students in the Republic of Ireland take exams for their Junior Certificate after three years of secondary schooling and for their Leaving Certificate two or three years later. Those with SEN may apply for exam support through the RACE scheme.

Dr Niall Muldoon

Dr Niall Muldoon

‘My office has been dealing with the same types of complaints in relation to the RACE scheme for a number of years now and I do not want to see this repeated next year,’ Muldoon said.

‘In 2014 and 2015, the Ombudsman for Children’s Office (OCO) received 132 complaints about the SEC’s administration of the RACE scheme. So far in 2016, the office has received an additional 55 complaints.

‘Issues such as communication, fairness and oversight of the scheme were common across all of the complaints.

‘A fundamental concern was that the SEC did not provide applicants with the reason why their application was refused. Parents and students were put in a position where they had to appeal decisions without knowing the reason why that decision was made.

‘In May 2016, the SEC began to provide reasons for its decision to refuse applications. While this was very late in the 2016 cycle, I very much welcome the commitment to continue this practice in the future.’

The report also found that many students who qualified for the scheme for Junior Certificate were refused for Leaving Certificate. Although the process for decision making is different, the scheme states that the eligibility criteria for both exams is the same. The report says this has resulted in confusion and frustration for both students and parents.

Complaints received by this Office highlighted the issue of late notification of decisions in many cases. Leaving Certificate students with disabilities should know what supports will be provided to them in a much timelier fashion, and not in the final year, or even the final weeks, of their school education.

Muldoon explained.

‘I am calling on the SEC to accept and implement the recommendations of this report in reviewing the criteria for the RACE scheme for students with special educational needs.

‘Similar issues to those discussed in this report were addressed in the High Court in recent weeks and the SEC subsequently undertook a review of some cases for 2016.

‘As Ombudsman for Children, I would expect that this report, alongside those judgements, will inform the overall review of the scheme to ensure that the SEC will meet its commitments to children with a disability. That would help to ensure that students sitting the Leaving Certificate in 2017 will not experience the same difficulties.’

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