FAS internal probe reveals manipulation of test results
Private training companies marked exams incorrectly
AN internal FAS investigation has uncovered evidence of "suspected malpractice" with the running of a number of its training courses, the Irish Independent has learnt.
Officials found evidence of exam papers being marked incorrectly, possible manipulation of test results, and other non-conformance issues during a nationwide review.
The findings, which raise questions over the integrity of some FAS courses, are the latest blow to the beleaguered state training agency, which has been rocked by a series of spending, procurement and training scandals over the past two years.
A source familiar with the review told the Irish Independent that a number of issues of concern had been found.
"A lot of the problems are relatively minor, but there were also a number of serious ones, including incidents of suspected malpractice," said the source.
"There is suggestion of the manipulation of results and other compliance issues on some of the courses."
The revelations come a day after the European Commission confirmed funding of FAS training courses had been suspended over a separate issue relating to auditing procedures.
FAS officials found the training course irregularities during a nationwide review of 301 courses run on behalf of the agency by external companies.
The review was initiated last October after the Irish Independent revealed how a tutor for a computer aided design course in the northeast doctored results for students so they could achieve pass grades.
A draft report based on the review is due to be given to the FAS board during a two-day board meeting on Monday and Tuesday.
FAS is now set to examine recommendations stemming from the review, including that a number of courses be overhauled or replaced altogether because they were inadequate or not suited to the needs of the jobs market.
Fine Gael education spokesman Fergus O'Dowd described the findings as "shocking" and called for urgent action.
"There must be a radical reform of the examination process. In particular, marking and certification of results must be removed from private companies and be independently assessed," he said.
"It is also clear course content must be radically altered in some instances as there is evidence that some courses are no longer fit for purpose."
FAS declined to comment on the review findings.
A spokeswoman said director general Paul O'Toole would be reporting to the board on the issue in two days time.
She added that where non-compliance with course regulations emerged, FAS was "committed to dealing with them in a systematic and timely manner and to take immediate corrective action".
Meanwhile, the European Commission said yesterday it was not satisfied with the "paper trail" provided by FAS regarding how some course funding was spent. The concerns date back to 2000 and are being investigated by the commission.
FAS has been given until the end of the month to produce evidence that all the spending was in order.
The agency may be forced to return some of the funding if it cannot demonstrate it was all spent according to EU criteria.
FAS received €407m in EU funding between 2000 and 2006 and had been due to receive a further €211m for the period between 2007 and 2013.
Responding to the development Education Minister Batt O'Keeffe insisted there had been "radical changes" in FAS and it deserved time to deliver under the new structure.
He said the Government was still going to look for the funding for FAS.
Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee Bernard Allen described the development as "very worrying".
another day, another scandal: comment, page 24