Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Questions (59)

Kathleen Funchion


59. Deputy Kathleen Funchion asked the Minister for Education and Skills if provision can be made in exceptional circumstances for the sitting of missed leaving certificate examinations without the necessity of waiting a year to do so or of repeating the year; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29366/18]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Education)

My question is on repeat leaving certificate examinations and to ask if any provision can be made in exceptional circumstances for the sitting of missed leaving certificate examinations without the necessity of waiting a year to do so or of repeating the year.

I thank the Deputy for raising the issue. I see the motivation behind it.

The State Examinations Commission has statutory responsibility for operational matters relating to the certificate examinations. I am informed by the commission that it regularly receives requests for assistance from candidates who either cannot take an examination or cannot perform to their optimum as a result of some life event such as illness, bereavement or other trauma. However, our examinations model is constrained in the degree to which the life experiences of individual students can be accommodated. Each year the commission makes arrangements such as early or deferred sittings and special sittings in hospitals to cater for a wide range of personal emergencies but this is only possible on the day of the examination.

The commission recognises that this is a very real issue for candidates and on foot of the concerns raised, the State Examinations Commission has given detailed consideration to the possibility of providing repeat examinations. The State examinations are run within the tightest of timescales and to maximum capacity to deliver a high quality product at both leaving certificate and junior certificate levels. It has been concluded that within our current externally examined examinations model, it would not be possible to hold repeat examinations and to have results available to the expected deadlines.

I raised the issue because I am not a fan of the leaving certificate system. It does not suit every student. I do not believe in the pressurised two-weeks with the whole country waiting to see how many students get seven A1s and all that nonsense. As part of reform I would like to see a system of continuous assessment, which is why I welcome it at junior certificate level. As part of the reform, there should be a repeat option. There might be an issue around deadlines but in this day and age it is something we should be able to examine because at third level there is always the option of repeating in August. I have heard of students who sat exams in hospital but there is a range of situations in question. I raise this because a person with cystic fibrosis came to us. The person cannot physically do two or three exams in one day. Many students fall into that category. If there was an option of repeating in late July or early August, students who fall into that category could stagger their exams.

I understand what the Deputy is saying but the State Examinations Commission has looked at how it can be flexible by giving rest breaks throughout the period of the exams and going to different venues and so on but it has confined it to the day the exam takes place. It is caught because of the CAO timeframe which is very definite. What is different from a higher education situation is that the CAO allocates places and they must be taken up. In higher education, one is going from first year to second year, for example, so the place is there and it is not a question of someone else waiting to take it if one does not take it. It is much more difficult for them. The senior cycle review has commenced and one of the issues that has been very clearly flagged by the NCCA is the excessive concentration on a pathway into higher education, ignoring other pathways which the leaving certificate system should be accommodating.

As things stand with the CAO and its timetable, it does not feel it would be feasible to facilitate repeats while meeting the same high standards. It would have to gear the system up for a second exam just at the time it is trying to deliver the first CAO results. The people who had repeated would have a problem in meeting the CAO requirements which would already have been allocated. There are genuine problems and reform of the senior cycle may trigger changes.

I understand all of that but it would apply to a very small number of students. There should be a repeat module and, if not, there should be an option for students to apply to repeat exams in exceptional circumstances.

Let us say it was the end of July or the first week in August, not many students would fall into that category. Surely there would be some way for their exams to be reviewed, assessed, corrected and ready in time for the CAO deadline. Maybe we need to look at the CAO deadline and make changes. The system currently does not suit all students. Various scenarios arise, including emergencies, family bereavements and illnesses. There is also the cohort of students I mentioned earlier, including those with cystic fibrosis or additional needs. I know accommodation is made available for students with additional needs, but not everyone will fall into that category. I advocate reviewing the senior cycle, especially this area. It might also help with students' stress levels and anxiety if they thought that in the worst-case scenario they could repeat some of their exams and would not have to repeat the entire year. It is such a waste of students' time and energy going back to school to repeat one subject when they may come out with the same result anyway.

The Deputy has illustrated the difficulty. She started by saying a very small number of people were involved, but at the end of her comments she said, of course, other people who may not have performed to their expectation should have a chance too. We would very rapidly have a significant repeat examination. This would require setting up not only the papers, but also the scoring framework, the oversight and the quality assurance of the testers, and then delivering the results in time for the CAO deadline. Fitting a second run into a very tight timeframe is the constraint. I would love to be able to say that we could do it, but the State Examinations Commission is independent. That is one issue. It is hard to deny the challenge the commission would face or see a way around it.