Coughlan to seek report on blunders


MINISTER FOR Education Mary Coughlan is expected to seek a full report from the State Exams Commission (SEC) on a series of embarrassing blunders in this year’s Leaving and Junior Cert exams.

Her spokesman said yesterday the Minister was “less than impressed” with the latest mistake when students in 16 south Dublin schools received an incomplete higher level accounting paper on Monday. He said: “It’s just not good enough given the level of preparation which students have put into their examinations that these mistakes occur.”

St Benildus, Blackrock College, CBC Monkstown, Clonkeen College, Oatlands College, St Andrew’s, Rosemont Secondary and Rathdown School were among 16 south Dublin schools which received the accounting paper with key sections missing.

Yesterday, the SEC said it would conduct a review of this year’s exams after a flurry of complaints from parents and teachers.

The SEC’s management of the exams was severely criticised by Labour’s education spokesman Ruairí Quinn yesterday.

Olivia Mitchell of Fine Gael said many parents had contacted her to complain about the situation. In particular, they were concerned that the response in different examination centres was not uniform. She called on Ms Coughlan to assure students that the disruptive effect of the error would be taken into account in marking.

Parents, teachers, and students have expressed concern about the inconsistent guidance given by the SEC after a printing error in the accounting paper became known at 2pm on Monday afternoon.

Although the SEC issued an instruction that students should continue with section one of the paper, examiners in at least one school – Oatlands College in Stillorgan – did not begin the exam until they received the complete paper at approximately 2.45pm. Students were given additional time in the exam, but this was at the discretion of the examiners, and varied significantly from school to school.

Martina Mannion, assistant principal for the SEC, said the length of additional time given would vary depending on a number of factors, such as the length of time taken to contact the SEC for instructions, the time involved in collecting the incorrect paper and distributing the correct paper, and the number of candidates in the centre.

“Accounting is a tough paper and students need the time,” said Damian O’Hora, a teacher at Clonkeen College, Blackrock. “Many would have preferred to answer the missing questions first, but with the instruction from the SEC to go ahead with section one, this wasn’t an option.”

This year’s exams have been a PR disaster for the SEC which had succeeded in running the exams without major incidents since its establishment in 2003.

Last year, a Leaving Cert English paper had to be rescheduled after the wrong paper was distributed – but the SEC was not responsible for the error.

The accounting error is the latest in a series of incidents that have caused embarrassment to the SEC this year. In the most serious incident, 24,000 Junior Cert business students were unable to work out a cash-flow question on the higher-level paper last week because of incorrect figures.