The State Examinations Commission (SEC) is the body responsible for second level examinations in Ireland. It is a non-departmental public body under the aegis of the Department of Education and Skills. They can be contacted as follows:
Accommodations for Students
Reasonable accommodations can be made available to students with dyslexia when sitting State examinations. The accommodations are intended to limit the impact of the candidate’s disability on their exam performance, while not giving the candidate any unfair advantage.
Each autumn, the SEC publishes guidelines and application criteria for the current academic year. These are available at: https://www.examinations.ie/?l=en&mc=ca&sc=ra
The options students with dyslexia can apply for if they meet the criteria are:
- Waiver from the assessment of spelling, grammar and punctuation in the language subjects
- Access to Reading Assistance (human reader or scanning pen)
- Use of a Recording Device or Word Processor/Laptop (occasionally voice dictation)
- Access to a Scribe
In 2017, some major changes were announced. Reasonable Accommodations that were granted for the Junior Certificate can now be reactivated at Leaving Certificate level. This is on the condition that the school can confirm that the student still has an identified and continuing need. This means that the State Examinations Commission (SEC) will, in most cases, accept the reactivation recommendations from the school and there should be no need for further testing of attainment levels for Leaving Certificate reactivations unless the student is looking for different accommodations.
The other major change was that previously dyslexic students applied for RACE under the category of ‘Specific Learning Difficulty’. This category has now broadened to ‘Learning Difficulty’. In light of this change cognitive/IQ scores are no longer required or a formal SLD/dyslexia diagnosis. This means that more students will be able to access accommodations, e.g. students who perhaps haven’t yet had a formal diagnosis of dyslexia, as well as students with more general or multiple learning difficulties.
The most commonly used assistive technology option for students with dyslexia is a computer/laptop. Reading Pens are also an option. However, it is important to note that the SEC has stated that it is open to individual applications made through the school for the use of other assistive technology provided it meets the following criteria:
It must be already being used by the student (therefore the student could use their own equipment and there would be no additional cost to its approval for use in a State exam.)
The SEC are satisfied that is will not jeopardise the integrity of the exam.
It requires no development work from the SEC in relation to its exam papers.
For example, a small number of students have used voice dictation software for their exams.
All applications for RACE must be made through the school using a common set of forms. You must indicate on the forms that you are making an application under ‘Learning Difficulty’ if you are dyslexic. There are separate sets of application forms for Junior and Leaving Certificate and they have separate application deadlines. The SEC releases new forms each year usually around September/October, so check their website for the current forms: https://www.examinations.ie/?l=en&mc=ca&sc=ra.
There are a range of forms usually available as follows:
RACE Scheme Junior Certificate Application Form – which is the standard application form at Junior Cert. level.
RACE Scheme Junior Certificate Late Applications Form – This form is used for late RACE applications.
RACE Scheme Leaving Certificate Reactivation Form – This should be used when applying for the reactivation of accommodations from Junior Certificate. It is also acceptable to use this form to apply for the use of a word processor rather than a scribe if a scribe was granted at Junior Certificate.
RACE Scheme Leaving Certificate Application for New Accommodations – This form can be used to apply for RACE for students who meet the criteria but did not receive any accommodations in their Junior Certificate OR where a student needs additional accommodations to the ones that were granted at Junior Cert.
RACE Scheme Leaving Certificate Late Application Form – This form can be used to make a late application for RACE at Leaving Certificate. It should be noted that that there is still a deadline for late applications and that schools will have to furnish the SEC with a reason for the application being submitted late.
It is important to note that the criteria for each accommodation has not changed. These will continue to be used to ‘evidence need’. In addition schools will be subjected to strenuous quality assurance checks by the SEC in order to maintain the integrity of both the Junior and Leaving Certificate. Schools are required to strictly adhere to the criteria when granting exam accommodations. The SEC provides a referral and advisory service to schools to assist them in difficult or complicated cases in relation to granting RACE.
Decisions on approval of reactivations and first time RACE applications will be passed on to the schools and the school should notify all candidates of the result of their application. If the application is rejected, then the SEC must provide the reasons for the rejection in writing to the school and student. As before, an independent appeals process is available should you be dissatisfied with the result of your RACE application. If you are then dissatisfied with the outcome of the independent appeal you may be able to have recourse through the Office of the Children’s Ombudsman (if the student is under 18 years old) or the Ombudsman (if the student is over 18 years old).
Annotation of Certificates
Currently, if a student has been granted reasonable accommodations which impact on the assessment of their exam, the grades obtained by a candidate will be accompanied by an explanatory note, such as: “all parts of the examination in this subject were assessed except spelling and written punctuation elements.”
The explanatory note has been the subject of an on-going legal challenge over recent years. In 2006 the Equality Authority ruled that the annotation of certificates was discriminatory. However, the Dept. of Education appealed this decision in the Circuit Court in 2007 and won. The case was referred to the High Court who upheld the decision of the Circuit Court. This means that unfortunately, as things stand, annotation of certificates will continue.
It is important to note that post leaving cert and third level qualifications do not include an annotation.
Accommodations at Third Level
Many third level colleges and examination bodies make provision for dyslexic students taking written exams. These provisions can include being given extra time, being allowed to use a word processor/computer, having the specific difficulty taken into account when marking the exam paper, etc. Students should consult with the Disability Officer in their college, their Tutor or Course Director, to find out precisely what provisions may be available. See our Third Level and FE section for more details