Unqualified teachers hired to help mark State exams

State Examinations Commission says ‘small proportion’ of trainees hired but majority are serving or retired teachers

The State Examinations Commission (SEC) has been forced to hire unqualified trainee teachers to help mark students’ Junior and Leaving Certificate papers due to a shortage of qualified applicants.

The exams body confirmed to The Irish Times that a “small proportion” of the 4,000-plus examiners this year were drawn from a pool of students completing a professional master of education qualification in relevant subjects or other “qualified applicants who are not teachers”.

It said the vast majority of examiners continue to be serving or retired teachers.

The SEC said that all examiners work under the guidance of a team of more experienced “advising examiners” whose primary role is to quality assure the process through monitoring the work of the examiners and providing advice and support.


However, the development has prompted concern from Opposition parties over potential risks to the integrity of the exams.

Sinn Féin’s education spokesman Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire TD said it was vitally important students have confidence that all exam scripts are marked to the highest standard possible.

“This is crucial to the integrity of the system as a whole,” he said. “There are plenty of qualified teachers. We need to examine why many do not find marking exams attractive enough.”

Labour’s education spokesman Aodhán Ó Ríordáin TD said it was clear “faultlines” were appearing in the operation of the State exams which need to be addressed.

“No properly functioning examination system should operate in this manner,” he said. “So much around the exams seems to involve firefighting or last-minute decisions, including the delayed released of the Leaving Cert results this year.”

The SEC warned of a shortage in applications to mark the State exams in the run-up to this year’s exams which is one of several factors behind a delay in the release of Leaving Cert results this year.

The results are due to be released on Friday, September 2nd — later than the traditional mid-August released date — while college offers have been pushed back until September 8th.

The SEC said while it prioritises the appointment of qualified teachers to mark exams, the engagement of applicants who are not qualified as teachers is permitted under its official policy.

This states that “applicants with the necessary qualification in the subject but not yet qualified as teachers will be considered only if vacancies remain after all suitable and fully qualified applicants have been offered appointment”.

The commission said this allows for the engagement of trainee teachers, or PME students, and others qualified in a subject but not currently teaching under its recruitment practices.

The SEC said 2019 was the most recent year for which complete data is available about the make-up of the examining team, due to Covid-related disruption.

In that year it hired a total of 122 trainee teachers to mark the State exams, who accounted for 3 per cent of examiners overall. Most were assigned to mark Junior Cycle rather than Leaving Cert scripts.

A spokesman said the SEC examiners are appointed on the basis of their academic qualifications, their teaching experience and their examination experience.

“The main criterion for suitability is the capacity to mark examinations work with maximum accuracy and efficiency,” the SEC said, in a statement.

“Examiners receive detailed training and instruction in order to fulfil their role. When examiners are appointed they attend a marking conference and undergo training on the application of the marking scheme; and their work is monitored by an advising examiner throughout the marking process as part of the rigorous standard setting and quality assurance processes in place.”

It said it was its experience that the role of examiner is conducted with commitment, diligence and professionalism by thousands of men and women each year.

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent