I thank the Ceann Comhairle for selecting this issue and it is good that the Minister for Education and Skills is present to respond on what I am sure he will agree is a most serious issue.
Last week the High Court ruled in favour of Rebecca Carter, a young woman who was forced to take the State to court to start in her chosen college course. While we had lots of sympathy from the Government last week, for example, when the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty, took Leaders' Questions, the truth is that this lady had to put herself and her family at considerable risk to achieve the just outcome she deserved. Thankfully, she has since started college, but the case has left a number of serious issues to be resolved.
It is important to put on the record some of the issues that came to light during this court case. Approximately 54,500 students sat the leaving certificate examinations this year. I am told the State Examinations Commission issued 383,764 grades from approximately 600,000 individual scripts. The proportion of appeals lodged against grades issued this year is very low, at 9,092 scripts from 5,200 students, or approximately 10%. When appeals over oral exams are included, I believe the number of items to be corrected on appeal was about 15,000.
Even though 10% of students and less than 2% of scripts go to appeal, it takes 40 days to recheck the appeals as opposed to 54 days to mark the entire leaving certificate. This is a system that is not fit for purpose. A total of 1,652 examiners corrected the scripts at first instance. This drops to about 400 for the appeals process. These figures came out during the court hearing and I am grateful to my correspondent who gave me them. The State Examinations Commission has offered no explanation for the 75% reduction in the number of examiners available for appeal. Why does that happen? The judge in the case noted that if the same number of examiners, who had been available for the initial corrections, were available for the appeal, then all the appeal scripts could have been completed in one day.
Given the facts revealed to us in a court action by a citizen at cost to her family, it is not surprising that Mr. Justice Humphreys stated that the system was "manifestly not fit for purpose". It is a ridiculous state of affairs. I have no wish to make a political football of this because the State Examinations Commission must be seen to be a non-political, impartial, fair judge of the achievements of students in leaving certificate examinations. However, the Minister and the State Examinations Commission need to get on top of this for next year.
We need to establish the scale of the issue and some of the facts have been set out very starkly in the court action before Mr. Justice Humphreys. Many other students are waiting to have their appeals finalised by the second week of October and some of them will also have missed college entry. We estimate - the Minister might confirm this - that approximately 300 students every year could have their points increased sufficiently to get a particular college place that they otherwise would not have been offered. This weekend, The Irish Times indicated that several hundred students annually end up securing higher-preference college places. Is it in the region of 300 students?
Is this an issue that is linked to business studies or is it a general issue? As I mentioned in a radio interview, I am certainly aware of another case where marks for a business studies paper were incorrectly moved from the front of the exam paper to the exam sheet. Is the Minister aware of other cases? Is there a timeline for a review? Is the State Examinations Commission appealing this decision? Is it not accepting the judge's findings? Crucially, is it paying the costs of Rebecca Carter and her family in this action?