Written answers

Thursday, 12 May 2022

Department of Education and Skills

State Examinations

Photo of Neasa HouriganNeasa Hourigan (Dublin Central, Green Party)
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89. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills if she will ensure that students who are visually impaired can access their State examinations via a digital paper given that during Covid restrictions and the closure of schools most visually impaired students worked entirely through digital means; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23356/22]

Photo of Norma FoleyNorma Foley (Kerry, Fianna Fail)
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The State Examinations Commission (SEC) provides a scheme of Reasonable Accommodations at the Certificate Examinations (RACE Scheme) to support students with a complex variety of special educational needs.

The purpose of the scheme is to allow students who have special educational needs that interfere with their capacity to engage with the standard examination arrangements to demonstrate what they know and can do, without compromising the integrity of the assessment. The focus of the RACE scheme is on removing examination access barriers, while retaining the need to assess the same underlying skills and competencies, and to apply the same standards of achievement, as apply to all other students.

For reasons of fairness and integrity, accommodations can only be provided in accordance with the published Framework of Principles and the requirements of the scheme to eligible students based on their level of need and the accommodation-specific eligibility criteria.

For candidates with visual impairments, the SEC works very closely with the Visiting Teacher Service (VTS) of the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) whose role includes supporting visually impaired children and young people and their parents, guardians and teachers. In 2019, the most recent year for which complete data is available the SEC provided c.200 candidates with accommodations due to visual impairments.

An extensive range of examination supports is available to support candidates with visual impairments. These include modified, enlarged and braille versions of papers; reading and writing accommodations involving assistive technology or personal support; drawing aids in certain subjects; and additional time at a rate of 10 minutes per hour subject to a 30 per examination paper limit. In the context of time in the examinations, it might be noted that additional time is available to candidates only in a very narrow range of circumstances one of which is to candidates with visual impairments. The SEC also provides Digital Coursework Booklets to candidates eligible to use word processors in a wide range of Leaving Certificate and Junior Cycle Subject subjects. This allows students of these subjects to complete their coursework in digital format for submission for marking.

Under the RACE Scheme, the SEC is open to considering applications for use of non-standard assistive technologies (other than those named in the scheme). Such applications will be decided upon by the SEC having due consideration to a number of factors including the candidate’s normal way of working; examinations integrity; the overhead of developing test instruments in alternative formats; and the principles and requirements of the RACE Scheme.

The RACE scheme was comprehensively reviewed from the 2017 examinations and will be subject to further review in the context of reform at Senior Cycle. A priority in the next phase of review will be increasing use of Assistive Technology to enhance access and integrity and to further support independent learning. In this regard there will be extensive consultation and engagement with all of the relevant stakeholders.

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