Watchdog warning over support refusal for children with literacy issues
A watchdog has warned exam chiefs not to repeat the same mistakes when refusing support for children with dyslexia, poor eyesight or literacy problems.
Children's Ombudsman Niall Muldoon said his office dealt with 132 complaints about the State Examinations Commission's (SEC) handling of pleas for help in 2014 and 2015, and another 55 this year.
Issues such as communication, fairness and oversight were raised in many reports, but the watchdog said the fundamental concern was that exam chiefs did not explain why applications were refused.
"Parents and students were put in a position where they had to appeal decisions without knowing the reason why that decision was made," Mr Muldoon said.
Under the Reasonable Accommodations at Certificate Examinations (Race) scheme, children who need help during exams can apply for test papers with large print or in Braille or a reader or a scribe to help them complete answers.
Teachers normally support the applications by supplying evidence of past test results, while psychologist's reports are also filed and pupils are asked to complete attainment assessments.
Mr Muldoon said many students who qualified for the scheme for Junior Certificate were refused for the Leaving Certificate.
"Although the process for decision making is different, the scheme states that the eligibility criteria for both exams is the same. This resulted in confusion and frustration for both students and parents," he said.
Mr Muldoon also said children being refused supports were often not told until late in the year.
"Leaving Certificate students with disabilities should know what supports will be provided to them in a much timelier fashion, and not in the final year, or even the final weeks, of their school education," he said.
This year, the State Examination Commission provided 19,806 reasonable accommodations for Leaving and Junior certificate pupils.
The ombudsman's office reviewed 40 of the complaints and found 38 related to refusal for exam support for Leaving Cert pupils with a specific learning disability such as dyslexia.
After submissions from the watchdog, eight of those pupils were given exam supports.
Its report said one parent told the office that the application and appeals process "lacked both transparency and humanity".
It also found school staff carrying out tests on pupils seeking exam supports must be competent at scoring, analysing and interpreting the results and be able to explain these to the pupil and their parents.