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State Examinations

Dáil Éireann Debate, Thursday - 30 June 2022

Thursday, 30 June 2022

Questions (10)

Paul Murphy


10. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Minister for Education if her attention has been drawn to the delay in the publication of leaving certificate examination results until early September 2022, which will cause immense difficulty for students seeking accommodation away from home and for students who may have been allocated places internationally, conditional on a certain starting date; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34923/22]

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Oral answers (7 contributions) (Question to Education)

I ask the Minister about the leaving certificate results being delayed for the third year in a row, to 2 September on this occasion. As I am sure the Minister knows, this will create a crisis for students seeking accommodation and will present real difficulties for those studying abroad and real problems for those with disabilities who are to go through an access programme, these programmes normally starting a week earlier than the regular college year.

As the Deputy will be aware, the State Examinations Commission, SEC, has statutory responsibility for operational matters relating to the leaving certificate examinations. The State Examinations Commission and the Department of Education are acutely aware of the needs of candidates and other stakeholders in regard to the provision of leaving certificate results, and the State Examinations Commission has being doing everything it can to ensure results are delivered as soon as possible.

The intended date of Friday, 2 September, is in line with the date leaving certificate results issued to students in both 2020 and 2021. Some 131,000 candidates are undertaking State examinations this year, which represents an increase of 6% on the last time a full set of junior cycle and leaving certificate examinations were run, in 2019.

There are significant factors which, when taken together, meant it was not previously possible for the SEC to give a planned date for the issuing of leaving certificate results. These factors included the holding of a deferred sitting of leaving certificate examinations for students who experienced close family bereavement, suffered serious injury or illness, or were unable to present for an examination on public health grounds due to Covid-19; the commitment that the overall set of results in 2022 would be no lower, in the aggregate, than the 2021 results; and the availability of sufficient numbers of examiners to mark written examinations. In addition, as with other years, sufficient time must be allowed for an extensive range of checks and quality assurance procedures in advance of the issue of the results. These are required to ensure the highest standards possible are maintained. The State Examinations Commission has an absolute responsibility to examination candidates to ensure their work is marked to the highest standards of quality and integrity, and the commission must be able to stand over the results it issues each year.

In March of this year, officials from my Department and the SEC briefed the further and higher education sector on challenges that could arise this summer. Over the past two years, by working collectively with education stakeholders, it was possible for the further and higher education system to respond to the needs of students wishing to continue their education and training. I am confident this will be the case again in 2022. In similar fashion to the past two years, contacts with international counterparts are taking place and will continue over the summer to ensure Irish students continue to have all options available to them.

Just because it happened last year and the year before, it does not mean it is okay. Is this going to be the norm now? The Covid situation this year is quite different from the situation last year or the year before. The norm previously was for results to be out in the middle of August. This still left students in a difficult situation with regard to getting accommodation but it was more doable. It is now left extremely late in the context of the existing accommodation crisis, which includes a crisis in student accommodation. It is putting people under very substantial pressure.

I do not really believe the reasons given by the SEC and the Minister stand up. The provision of a deferred sitting for those who experienced a close family bereavement was mentioned. That accounts for a relatively small number of cases. I do not see why it would have to delay the results. The Minister also mentioned giving effect to her commitment that the results would be no lower, in the aggregate, than last year's. That commitment was made last February. It seems the issue is again fundamentally one of planning. We knew all of these things were happening. Why were plans not put in place to avoid this situation?

I reiterate that, irrespective of the Deputy's views, we are still in a Covid environment. For that reason, appropriate provision had to be made for students, taking that environment into account. That is exactly what students, their families and the school communities wanted. That is equally true with regard to our achievement in previous years. It is remarkable that, throughout the Covid pandemic, we have found opportunities for students through the calculated grades process in 2020, the accredited grades process with the offer of a seated examination for students last year, which was almost unique in the world, and the full sitting of the examination this year with accommodation for a second sitting. It is also important the commitment was given to students that the overall results in 2022 would be no lower, in the aggregate, than the 2021 results. It is important the State Examinations Commission can stand over the integrity of the examinations. It is not possible for the work to be done to ensure the grade profile for 2022 matches the 2021 profile until all examinations are completed.

It is important from the students' point of view and the school communities' point of view that the imprimatur of the State Examinations Commission is provided for these exams.

I agree we are still in a Covid environment. I often find I am the one pointing that out. It is the Government that is getting rid of long Covid leave. It is the Department of Education that is telling very high-risk individuals they have to go back to the workplace. Clearly, we are in a different situation than we were last year or the year before.

Regardless of the reasons, will the Minister in her response focus on what the Department is going to do to mitigate and minimise the bad effects as a consequence? What is the plan to assist students with getting accommodation? What is the plan for those with disabilities who are accessing education through the higher education access route, HEAR, or the disability access route to education, DARE? What will happen with the orientation weeks? What action is the Department going to take to assist students who are planning to study abroad? Has there been contact with UCAS in the UK and the equivalent bodies internationally to explain that the results will be delayed, in order to protect the places of those waiting for their leaving certificate results?

We all understand the logistics leading to the lateness in the leaving certificate results, but it is causing a huge amount of heartache. A family have contacted me as a young woman has been offered a course in the Netherlands that must be accepted on 26 August. She has also been offered a course in Coleraine that has to be accepted on 1 September. The first round of CAO offers will not happen until 8 September. We can all see the logistical difficulties in that. The Minister must communicate with international partners, UCAS and individual colleges in the North to ensure the likes of this student are not put out and do not end up in bad circumstances when that can be avoided.

I salute the work of school communities, students and families, as well as the State Examinations Commission, in ensuring our students have this pathway forward. In March of this year, officials from the Department of Education and the State Examinations Commission briefed the further and higher education sector on challenges that could arise this summer, particularly with regard to the release of results. The further and higher education sector made provision in this regard last year and I have every confidence it will do likewise this year. Those discussions took place in March so notification was provided as to the challenges there. It is my understanding the results date is within the UCAS timeframe.

Regarding international students, in a similar fashion to the past two years, we have taken a very proactive approach. I have written personally to my European counterparts on the matter. That worked very successfully in previous years and I have every confidence it will work again this year. Where there are specific issues, students can raise them directly with the college but there is also an email address they can write to if there is a particular difficulty. That is available on