Exams body to review rules for bereaved students sitting exams

Student tells of having to sit Leaving Cert exam the day after her mother died

The State Examinations Commission is reviewing exam rules for bereaved students after a young woman spoke of being forced to sit her Leaving Cert business paper the day after her mother 's death .

Rhona Butler from Carrick-on-Suir, Co Tipperary, said her mother died of cancer on June 13th last in the middle of her Leaving Cert exams.

The following day, she had to go into school to sit her business exam or risk repeating the Leaving Cert the following year.

"My school couldn't have done anything for me, they would have if they could have . . . I didn't want to make it any more abnormal than it was," she told the Ryan Tubridy Show on RTÉ radio.


After her mother was buried on Saturday, Ms Butler was back on Monday to complete her accounting exam.

She made a plea for there to be an option for those dealing with bereavement to take their exams a few weeks later, rather than waiting a whole year more.

“If I didn’t show up on the day, that was my problem. It wasn’t the department’s, they didn’t care,” she said.

In a statement, a spokesman for the State Examinations Commission (SEC) said it has been undertaking a review of its “reasonable accommodation” scheme for students who suffer traumatic events or illnesses at exam time.

“The SEC is very alert to the difficulties which some students encounter in their lives at examinations time,”he said.

Telephone call

A spokesman for Minister for Education Joe McHugh said the Minister rang Ms Butler on Thursday after listening back to her radio interview.

“Minister McHugh firmly believes that reviewing how we look after and support students who suffer a close family bereavement at exam time is an important step,” he said.

“Minister McHugh has assured Ms Butler that the issue was immediately raised with officials.”

Ms Butler said there needs to be a better bereavement process in place, such as allowing students to sit another exam later in the month.

Mr Butler said she sent an email to the department but had received only an automated response, which she criticised, saying: "By the time he reads that I could be 40."

She added: “It’s not fair on the student, it’s not fair on the family and it’s not fair on the school either.”

An SEC spokesman said “every possible effort” was made by the commission to accommodate candidates in emergency situations.

These measures include alterations to the standard exam timetable and special sittings in venues such as hospitals.

“For students who suffer a bereavement, we can arrange an early or a late sitting of an exam in order to attend the funeral of a close family member on the scheduled date of the examination,” he said.

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