Exam body vows to address quality of Leaving Cert orals to ‘greatest extent possible’

Examiners say siginificant numbers of students marked down ‘through no fault of their own’

The State Examinations Commission (SEC) says quality issues relating to this year's Leaving Cert oral exams will be addressed in the marking process to the "greatest degree possible".

It follows complaints by examiners, reported in The Irish Times on Monday, that significant numbers of candidates were marked down through no fault of their own due to shortcomings in the way interviews were conducted.

In a change to normal practice, oral exams were this year conducted by teachers in students’ schools and recordings were marked later by the SEC.

There was no training provided for teachers to conduct these interviews and teachers say detailed instructions were issued just three days before the oral exams began.


Examiners who went on to mark these oral interviews were instructed not to record any reference to deficiencies in their official feedback reports, such as not asking enough questions or leaving out key sections.

Quality and fairness

In a statement on Monday evening, the SEC said while this year presented significant challenges, it said its commitment to quality and fairness in the marking of examinations stands.

“Accordingly, any quality issues relating to the orals and/or the written examinations will be addressed as normal in the marking process to the greatest degree possible,” it said.

Minister for Education Norma Foley said she had requested that the SEC keep her fully informed on issues relating to the marking of this year's oral exams.

“In line with the SEC’s quality assurance arrangements, the SEC continues to monitor the marking process and, as part of this, will give its consideration to any actions that may be required,” she said.

Ms Foley added that the SEC has also confirmed that confirmed that marking of the oral examinations is ongoing and has not concluded.

Vast bulk concluded

However, one examiner who spoke to The Irish Times said they understood that the vast bulk of the marking process had concluded.

In their case, they said the deadline for the return of their marked oral exams in many cases was May 31st.

The examiner also questioned how oral exams where students lost marks through no fault of their own could be identified, given that examiners were instructed not to flag issues. Revisiting these flaws, they said, would require rehearing thousands of audio recording and, potentially, adjusting marks.

In addition, they added that a simple re-hearing of the recordings would not address the core issue which is the failure of interviewers to fairly and correctly conduct the oral examination interview.

Sinn Féin’s education spokesman Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire said the Minister needed to provide clarity on the scale of the problem and how students may be affected.

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