Tuesday, 15 May 2012
I tabled this Adjournment matter because I have dealt with a case that is an indictment of the education system. It pertains to twins, both of whom applied for a special dispensation in their leaving certificate examination process because they are identically dyslexic. One was granted special arrangements while the other was not, simply because the second girl may have been a little brighter than the first and her examination results were a little better. Despite having identical medical issues - the position regarding their dyslexia was identical - the State Examinations Commission decided to discriminate against one and show favouritism to the other. The director of the Association for Higher Education Access and Disability, AHEAD, also wrote a strongly-worded submission, which I have read, to the State Examinations Commission in support of the second student. Unfortunately, no response to that letter has been received to date.
Upon examining the State Examinations Commission and its remit, it appears to be answerable to no one. It is not answerable to either the Ombudsman for Children or these Houses and is only answerable to the Department. It can decide itself when to respond to letters. It can also decide arbitrarily whether to give special arrangements to people with disabilities. An argument is being put forward to the effect the middle classes are using the State Examinations Commission's special arrangements in some cases to secure additional time, facilities and so on for their young people. While I understand that all systems, including this one, are open to abuse, if even a single child is discriminated against because of such thinking, it simply is not good enough.
I am asking that the Ombudsman for Children be given a remit in this area. In regard to the specific case I have raised, I ask that the Minister of State, Deputy O'Sullivan, bring to the attention of the Minister for Education and Skills, the need for him and his officials to intervene with the State Examinations Commission in the remaining three to four weeks before the leaving certificate examinations commence to ensure the person concerned, who is a citizen of this State, is given parity of esteem and equality with her sister who suffers from the same condition as she does. This discrimination between two siblings is absolutely appalling.
I am taking this Adjournment matter on behalf of my colleague the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Ruairí Quinn. The State Examinations Commission, SEC, was established as an independent agency in 2003 to deal with all operational issues relating to State examinations. The Minister has no role in the appeal mechanisms for decisions made by the SEC. The SEC has provided the Minister with the following information.
Each year the SEC provides State examinations for more than 110,000 candidates in 90 subjects. There are two areas in the examination process where an appeal mechanism exists for decisions of the SEC, namely, the scheme of reasonable accommodations and examination results. The scheme of reasonable accommodations operated by the SEC is designed to assist candidates with special needs at the certificate examinations. In the context of the leaving certificate, applications for reasonable accommodations on the grounds of a specific learning disability are referred to the National Educational Psychological Services, NEPS, for consideration and those relating to physical or behavioural conditions are determined by the SEC. In all cases, a school, parent or student dissatisfied with any aspect of the SEC's decision, has access to an independent appeals committee. All members of the RACE appeals committee are independent of the SEC and their remit covers appeals against all elements of a decision taken by the SEC. All decisions and appeals are considered in light of a published framework of principles established by an expert advisory group.
A candidate dissatisfied with his or her examination results can appeal that decision. In deciding to appeal, a leaving certificate candidate has an opportunity to view his or her marked script and the published marking scheme for that subject. On appeal, a candidate's work is re-marked by a different examiner. If the candidate is dissatisfied with his or her appeal outcome he or she can have recourse to an independent appeals scrutineer. Independent appeals scrutineers are independent of the SEC. They have the power to request all documentation relating to an appeal to establish that procedures were properly carried out. In making an application to an appeals scrutineer, candidates may opt to view a remarked script and may make observations on any matter in the script.
Since its establishment the SEC has engaged with the Office of the Ombudsman and the Office of the Ombudsman for Children. Up to 2010 the SEC advised schools and candidates that they had recourse to the Ombudsman in all of their dealings with the SEC. In 2010, the SEC was advised by the Office of the Ombudsman that the legislation covering the role of the Ombudsman did not specifically cover the SEC. The SEC then made contact with the Office of Ombudsman for Children to ascertain if it was in a position to continue to engage with the SEC. The Office of Ombudsman for Children advised that it too was of the view that the legislation under which it operated did not permit it to engage with the SEC. That office has since advised the SEC that, following a review of its legislation, it has requested that the SEC be added to the list of bodies covered by the Act.
In summary, the SEC has indicated that it is open and willing to engage with the office of the Ombudsman and the office of the Ombudsman for Children on all issues. It has been working with the office of the Ombudsman for Children to see what arrangements can be put in place pending the extension of the legislation. I realise the matter raised by Senator Conway is urgent and that this is ongoing work. However, that is the reply offered by the Minister.
Go raibh maith agat. Will adding the SEC to the list of bodies covered require the introduction of further legislation? I have no doubt if that is the case, the speedy passage of such legislation will be facilitated in this House.
Under "details supplied", I provided a significant amount of information on this case. I would like the Minister and his officials to investigate what is being done by the SEC in this regard. A child's future is at stake. This is an extremely urgent matter. While I accept that the SEC is independent, the Government has ultimate responsibility in this area.