Complaints to Ombudsman as exam aids denied

Disabled students in distress as exams body denies supports

Emily Logan is the  Ombudsman for Children. Photograph: Alan Betson

Emily Logan is the Ombudsman for Children. Photograph: Alan Betson

Thu, Jun 5, 2014, 01:00

The Ombudsman for Children is to meet the State Examinations Commission (SEC) after 13 parents complained that their children, who have a range of learning difficulties, were refused learning supports in this year’s Leaving Cert exams.

At least 20 students in three schools began the State exams without the scribes or readers provided under the “reasonable accommodation scheme” and which they say they need for help in completing the exams.

The SEC’s decision to reject the advice of some medical experts cited in the applications for reasonable accommodation, who said the students should have additional exam supports, has angered parents, schools and the disability rights organisation Ahead.

Most of the students in question suffer from dyspraxia or developmental co-ordination disorder, both of which can dramatically affect co-ordination and handwriting, although some of the students have autism or dyslexia.

Ann Heelan, executive director of Ahead, said it had never seen such a volume of complaints and that the situation seemed to be unprecedented.

Parents have objected that a committee of the SEC, which refused the applications for exam accommodations, has no medics or occupational therapists on it.

Refused assistance

In one mainstream school in Munster with a relatively large number of students who have developmental disabilities, the principal said students in her school had never before been refused assistance.

The SEC emailed the result of the application for reasonable accommodation to the school at 3.05pm on a weekday, but gave them just under two hours to lodge an appeal. This appeal was later refused.

The principal said the students in question were in a state of distress and that, while stress is synonymous with the Leaving Certificate, it was a particular struggle to get these students through the exams.

One parent from the same school who spoke to The Irish Times said his son, who has the writing disability dysgraphia, is resigned to the fact that he will not be given a scribe, tape recorder or any other assistance in his exam.

No indication

“His writing can be difficult to read, but the examiner will not be given any indication of his disability,” he said.

“We are shattered by the whole experience. All we can now hope for is that this will not happen to other families in 2015.”

Although parents have lodged complaints about the SEC in previous years, this is the first year the Ombudsman for Children has the power to investigate them.

A spokeswoman for the Ombudsman’s office said it had met the SEC previously to express its concerns. She said it was not the automatic appeals mechanism for reasonable accommodation decisions but could look at the administrative decisions of the SEC. It was doing its best to investigate the complaints as fast as possible.

The SEC said it had followed procedures and that its priority was to maintain the integrity of the State exams, particularly the Leaving Cert. A spokesperson added that the decisions were not based on budgetary considerations.

In 2012, 8,967 candidates applied to the SEC for reasonable accommodation, with 1,769 turned down. In 2013, 9,152 students applied and 1,992 were turned down. Figures are not yet available for 2014.