Learning disability students win right to ‘reader’

More than 80 students with dyslexia or other learning disabilities are to get ‘reader’ help or other special accommodation for the Leaving Certificate exams following a review of the refusals of 400 applications for assistance.

The State Examinations Commission is re-examining 400 applications seeking “reasonable accommodation” for the exams arising from a High Court decision last month quashing the refusal of a reader to a student. Mr Justice Seamus Noonan overturned the refusal on grounds including failure of the Commission’s Independent Appeals Committee to give “any understandable rationale” for refusal.

After he gave that judgement for the student, represented by Feichin McDonagh SC, the boy was given a reader — an adult exam supervisor to read exam questions in a way a dyslexic student can understand.

Under the commission’s ‘reasonable accommodation’ policy, students who believe certain permanent or long-term conditions may affect their examinations performance can apply for special arrangements. Of 116,000 students who sit State exams annually, about 18,000 seek such accommodation.

To qualify for a reader, a student must satisfy certain criteria, including obtaining certain test scores in word reading on sample papers.

At Leaving Certificate level, decisions on applications for readers or other ‘reasonable accommodation’ in certificate examinations under the Race scheme are taken by the commission after an application is made on behalf of a candidate by their school. If an application is refused, there is a right of appeal to the Commission’s Independent Appeals Committee and complaints may also be made to the Ombudsman for Children or, where appropriate, the ombudsman. Four other cases aimed at securing readers or other special accommodation have been initiated. One has settled with the student getting the reader. Three others are due for hearing at the High Court next week.

As part of its re-examination of 404 rejected applications, the SEC has decided 81 students who had been refused a reader or other ‘reasonable accommodation’ should be granted the accommodation as, when they appealed against being refused readers, they had submitted new information indicating they met the qualifying criteria for the Race scheme.

The commission says 260 other cases fall into categories in that either no new information was submitted at the appeals stage, or no information was submitted indicating the applicant met the criteria. Those 260 cases are being reviewed. That is due to conclude on Friday.



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