Student with dyslexia challenges minister to provide a reader

A Leaving Certificate student with dyslexia has challenged the education minister’s refusal to grant him an adult “reader” to help him understand the exam papers in recognition of the impact of his disability.

The 18-year-old student, from Dublin, was given a reader when sitting his Junior Certificate but has been refused one for the Leaving Certificate, which he is due to sit this year.

Mr Justice Richard Humphreys granted leave yesterday to senior counsel Feichín McDonagh to challenge that refusal in judicial review proceedings against the minister.

The student, when aged 9, secured a placement at a special school for children with dyslexia who are of higher or average intelligence but with lesser literacy skills than 98% of their peers.

Since returning to his mainstream school, the student’s efforts to keep up with his peers involve attending after-school study five days a week, court documents state.

Under a “reasonable accommodation” policy operated by the State Examinations Commission, students who believe certain permanent or long-term conditions, such as visual, hearing, and specific learning difficulties, may affect their examinations performance can apply for special arrangements.

After the plaintiff’s school confirmed he would need special arrangements for the Junior Certificate, he was granted a reader, an adult exam supervisor to read the exam questions to him in a way he could understand, and was also not penalised for spelling and grammar mistakes.

In seeking a similar special accommodation for the Leaving Certificate, he exhibited a letter from a clinical psychologist who said the student’s fluctuations in attention and listening are exacerbated by anxiety in exam situations.

He was later refused a reader after reaching a score of 90 in word reading on what is known as the Wide Range Achievement Test. The guidelines for a reader include scoring 85 or less on that test.

He was, however, granted a waiver for spelling, grammar, and punctuation for language subjects.

In his appeal against being refused a reader, the student provided a further report from the clinical psychologist, a letter from his school principal stating that his word reading scores do not accurately reflect his performance under exam conditions, and a letter from his mother.

His appeal was rejected on January 14 on foot of an apparent “pro forma” letter, he claims.

In his judicial review, he wants orders quashing that refusal, arguing that a failure to provide reasons for it renders it fundamentally flawed and in breach of fair procedures.

He does not know the reasons for refusing his appeal and that in turn affects his ability to bring a further appeal to the Ombudsman for children, it is claimed.

The minister, it is also claimed, was on notice at all times that the student cannot read or comprehend passages as well when he is under exam conditions.

The student claims he is severely prejudiced as a result of the refusal and the matter is urgent as he is to sit his “mock” Leaving Certificate within weeks and the mocks provide his only real opportunity to prepare for the exam with the aid of a reader.


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