Tuesday 12 December 2017

Leaving Cert: Blunders won't be repeated – exam chiefs

Leaving Cert diarist Ellie Walsh, who will start her exams today. Photo: John Power
Leaving Cert diarist Ellie Walsh, who will start her exams today. Photo: John Power

Katherine Donnelly Education Editor

STATE exam chiefs have taken extra precautions in the hope of avoiding a re-run of the embarrassing litany of 13 mistakes found on Leaving and Junior Cert papers last year.

In a key move this year, the State Examinations Commission (SEC) brought in subject experts to scrutinise the written Leaving Cert papers, at a late stage in their preparation.

The people involved would not have had a role in compiling the questions, so would have brought fresh sets of eyes to the papers at an advanced stage.

The SEC described it as "significant additional quality assurance measure to minimise the risk of error", after what it acknowledged an "unacceptably high" rate last year.

It follows a review of the 2013 blunders, which also took on board the effect of the retirement of a large number of staff – the loss of whom stripped huge expertise from the system.

In the 12-month run-up to last June, SEC staff numbers were cut by 15pc, which led to an increased workload for exam and assessment managers, compounded by the fact that 30pc were new recruits.

This year, senior management has adopted a "more strategic approach to anticipating and assessing the impact of retirements, and other staff changes, including assessing the risks associated with the loss of subject-specific expertise".

In the case of maths, additional contract staff have been employed to assist in the preparation of papers to coincide with the phased roll-out of Project Maths at both Leaving and Junior Cert.

Preparations for exams is a mammoth exercise with a total of 106 subjects, written papers and practical exams, and various forms of coursework.

The SEC produces 506 different exam papers and other test instruments each year – most written and practical exams are in both English and Irish, and sometimes in Braille or a modified form.

In addition, exam chiefs produce a full set on back-up papers and the entire production runs to 48 million individual A4 pages.

The SEC said while the aspiration of any exam body was to preside over an error-free system, it was recognised internationally that "this will always be an aspiration rather than a completely achievable goal".


As a further measure this year, exam chiefs have also boosted their communications strategy for dealing with any errors that might arise during the 13-day exam period.

They have set up a specific area in their examinations.ie website with detailed information on the approach to errors, depending on the circumstances in which they arise.

For instance, where errors are detected after printing but before the exam, the SEC produces a list of corrections, which are later read out to candidates.

Where errors come to light during or after an exam, the SEC will assess the potential impact and takes steps to ensure that no candidate is disadvantaged as a result.

Irish Independent

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