Two Junior Cert exams changed for Ennis students in response to double drowning of students

by Gordon Deegan

The State Examinations Commission (SEC) reprinted hundreds of copies of two Junior Cert exam papers for students in the Ennis area after deleting exam content in its response to the tragic double drowning of two Ennis 15-year-olds.

Just under two weeks ago, Junior Cert students in Ennis were plunged into grief following the drowning of ‘brothers in arms’ Junior Cert student, Shay Moloney and his friend, Jack Kenneally in a lake in an unused quarry outside Ennis six days before the exams were to start.

Shay Moloney and Jack Kenneally. Pic: Ennis Rugby Club

The two were stars this year of Ennis RFC’s U15 team and Shay lost his life trying to save his friend, Jack at the quarry outside Ennis on May 31st.

A student at St Flannan's College, Shay was due to commence his Junior Cert exams last Wednesday like hundreds of other students across Ennis.

Today, the SEC confirmed it undertook what it called “the massive logistical operation” of reprinting and packing amended papers at Junior Cert Ordinary Level Irish and Junior Cert Civic, Social and Political Education (CSPE) in response to the tragedy.

This follows staff at the SEC undertaking a ‘rapid review’ by going through every exam paper in order “to identifying any examination content that might cause distress to students closely involved with the traumatic event and sitting examinations in its immediate aftermath”.

As a result the SEC removed two questions - one each in the Ordinary Level Irish and the CSPE - that may have caused upset to Ennis students and replaced them with questions of equal demand.

However, the SEC admitted that it missed one question in the Higher Level English paper that asked students to select the correct word in the sentence - ‘I was not allowed / aloud to swim in the old quarry’.

Earlier this week, member of Clare Co Council, Cllr Mary Howard (FG) said that it was “hugely unfortunate that some of the friends of the two boys were faced with a question like this in their English exam, especially when they are still grieving over the boys’ deaths”.

Today, a spokesman for the SEC said: “If this question had come to our attention during the review, we would also have arranged for its replacement.”

The capacity of the SEC to respond to traumatic events at examination time is extremely limited. In responding to the events in Ennis in this way, we took note of the degree of impact that such a terrible event, involving the death of two students, one of whom was an examination candidate, would have on the Ennis school community, including those who had witnessed these events and the friends and classmates of the deceased.

The SEC stated: “Given the short time available for intervention, it was not possible to carry out a detailed review of each paper.

"The review therefore focussed primarily on examining the imagery used on the examination papers and the textual prompts used for personal response items, such as essay titles.”

Giving details of the two questions that were replaced, the SEC stated that in Junior Cert Ordinary Level Irish, candidates were asked to match a set of pictures with a set of related signs or notices.

One matching pair consisted of pairing the text ‘Dainséar ­– Cosc ar shnámh anseo’ with an image of a lake in front of which is a sign with a standard ‘no swimming’ graphic. This item-pair was replaced.

Also in the Junior Cert Civic Social and Political Education, in Section 3, Q1 on page 12 begins with the statement that one of the aims of the Irish Coast Guard is to reduce the loss of life on Ireland’s seas and waterways, and candidates are then asked a number of questions about the Coast Guard.

The SEC state that this question was also replaced for students at Ennis schools.

The SEC stated: “Every year, unfortunately, there are many students who are faced with taking their examinations at a time of personal tragedy or trauma.

However, certain traumatic events are of such a scale and type as to have a deep and significant impact on an entire local community. This was such an event.

"Furthermore, not only was one of those who lost his life a candidate for the forthcoming Junior Certificate examinations, there were other candidates who witnessed the tragedy and the rescue and recovery efforts of the emergency services."

The SEC said that on learning of the tragedy, it made contact with the schools in the area and with the National Educational Psychological Service, in order to ensure that appropriate support was in place to assist the schools in supporting their students at this time, and to ensure that they were aware of the examination accommodations that could be made to assist particular students affected by it.

There could be yet be other changes to exams to be taken by Ennis students as the SEC statement confirmed that it can only confirm changes to exams that have already taken place.


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