Disabled pupils' exam assistance request refused
A LAST-minute refusal of assistance in the Leaving Certificate exams to students with diagnosed disabilities has sparked outrage.
The Office of the Ombudsman has been drafted into a race against time to persuade the State Examinations Commission (SEC) to reverse the decision affecting 18 pupils of a private school in the Munster area.
It was only on Thursday that the students, most of whom suffer with dyspraxia and dysgraphia, were told that their requests for assistance to help them overcome their difficulties in writing, were being refused.
The school principal told the Irish Independent that some parents had advised her that their children's sitting of the exams was now in serious doubt due to the anxiety caused.
Now, the students and the parents will have to wait until after the bank holiday weekend for any further developments.
The Office of the Ombudsman confirmed that it had received correspondence on the matter yesterday, but it was seeking verification of some information and it had not yet been accepted as a complaint.
Because of the bank holiday weekend, the Ombudsman's office is closed until Tuesday – the day before the exams start – and the spokesperson said nothing further would happen on their end until then.
Under a special arrangement, known as the Scheme for Reasonable Accommodation, they had applied for the use of a scribe to whom they could dictate their answers because of their own difficulties with writing.
The school principal told the Irish Independent that other applications sent by the school for special assistance in the exams were approved, and in a timely manner. Following their applications, the students received letters in recent weeks saying they had been refused.
Appeals were unsuccessful and students subsequently applied for an alternative form of assistance, a tape recorder, but were notified on Thursday that these would not be approved either.
The principal said they followed guidelines set out by National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS), and worked very closely with a number of highly reputable professionals and diagnostic therapists, to ensure best practice in making applications.
The SEC would not comment on individual cases but said it "approves all applications which meet the criteria set out in the scheme".
A spokesperson said the Scheme of Reasonable Accommodations was not subject to any budgetary cutbacks.
Ann Heelan, chief executive of AHEAD, which supports students with disabilities in education, contacted the Ombudsman about the matter yesterday, and subsequently details of the individual cases were forwarded to the office. She also contacted the SEC.
Ms Heelan said students with dyspraxia and dysgraphia could have difficulty writing for more than 10 minutes at a stretch.
She said in her expert view the students met the required criteria and refusals were compounded by the late notification – less than a week before the exams.