Wednesday 13 December 2017

Leaving Cert appeals system does not pass the test of fairness

In my opinion...

Robbie Harrold, biology teacher and Chairman of the National Ass. of Adult and Community Education Directors
Robbie Harrold, biology teacher and Chairman of the National Ass. of Adult and Community Education Directors

Robbie Harrold

Leaving Certificate candidates who viewed their scripts, and paid €40 to have a paper re-marked, are awaiting the result of their appeal. Many would have filled in an AP1 form to bring specific issues to the attention of the appeal examiner. Students will be informed of the outcome next week.

If a student wants to go further and find out how the appeal examiner addressed the issues raised in the AP1 form, he/she has to go to Athlone on October 22.

Here are some examples of what students found out when they went to Athlone in previous years:

• In 2015, the SEC awarded marks to a student based on issues raised on her AP1 but took away marks from other sections, which balanced out any additional marks awarded. The student challenged the removal of marks by filling out the AP1 form once again and, in December was upgraded from a B2 to B1.

• In 2014, a student appealed a mark he received for an answer to the following question on the higher level biology paper: 'What do you think is meant by the term degenerative illness?' He had described such an illness as a condition that "deteriorates over time" but his appeal was rejected because the marking scheme used the specific words "getting worse".

• In 2014, a student was not awarded marks for a valid answer he had highlighted in his AP1 form, and was told that his answer was not on the marking scheme. However, the marking scheme read for the particular question: "Any valid answer". The student challenged this and was awarded the marks in December.

It is unfair for students to have to go to Athlone to view their appeal script. The SEC should be required to send the reviewed papers back to schools. This gives greater accessibility to students and also ensures greater accountability from the appeal examiner who knows that students have greater opportunity to see if the issues raised were dealt with fairly.

Teachers across a number of subjects tell me that valid answers are not being awarded marks, either at the initial marking stage or at the appeal stage. They have seen appeals where the student has clearly the correct concept in their answer but are not awarded marks because the wording was not the same as in the marking scheme. They have observed that this is happening when students are being left at marks of 84.75pc (.25pc short of an A2) and 89.75pc (.25pc short of an A1). Under the old grading system, these equate to losses of five and 10 CAO points, respectively. Even worse, under the new system, a mark of 89.75pc receives a H2, just short of a H1, with a resultant loss of 12 CAO points.

The SEC Candidate Information Booklet states that: "Decisions of the SEC, in relation to appeals of examination results, are open to review by the Office of the Ombudsman".

However, it seems that, if a student appeals to the Ombudsman, the SEC can insist that matters of "academic judgement" are outside the remit of the Ombudsman and the Ombudsman cannot review the appeal any further. This has been clearly established in an appeal made to the Ombudsman by a student.

It is a principle of natural justice that no person should be seen to judge a case in which they have an interest.

The chief examiners in the various Leaving Cert subjects are employed by the SEC and cannot be deemed to be impartial. The principle of natural justice is not being observed for students as there is no avenue of appeal outside the control of the SEC.

Parents who are unhappy about entry procedures into a school can make a Section 29 appeal to the Department of Education and Skills. Students unhappy with the result of their Leaving Cert appeal should have a similar facility.

The Leaving Cert is a critical gateway for the future of all sixth year students and therefore the appeals process must be fair and accessible. In my opinion it falls well short on both counts.

Robbie Harrold has been teaching Leaving Cert Biology for 36 years. He was Chairman of the National Ass. of Adult and Community Education Directors for 10 years (2004-2014)

Irish Independent

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