Leaving Cert appeals set to change following court ruling in favour of student

Up to 350 students a year could benefit from sweeping changes to the timing of Leaving Certificate results, college offers, and exam rechecks, which ministers claim will cut three weeks off the exam appeals process.

Leaving Cert appeals set to change following court ruling in favour of student

By Niall Murray, Education Correspondent

Up to 350 students a year could benefit from sweeping changes to the timing of Leaving Certificate results, college offers, and exam rechecks, which ministers claim will cut three weeks off the exam appeals process.

A range of new measures has been prompted by September’s High Court ruling in favour of a Wexford student. Rebecca Carter was found to have been unfairly treated by the time the State Examinations Commission (SEC) would take to re- correct her Leaving Certificate business paper, as she could have been forced to wait a year to begin her college course.

The changes include:

  • Leaving Certificate results will be issued on Tuesday, August 13, next year instead of the traditional Wednesday;
  • The Central Applications Office will then issue its first-round offers the following Friday. CAO results are normally issued on the Monday after the Leaving Certificate results;
  • Teachers will be allowed take time off school to mark appeals full time;
  • Colleges will not begin any first-year programmes until at least the second week of September from 2019.

The Department of Education also revealed yesterday that it has lodged an appeal against aspects of the judgment last month, but stressed it was on questions of law in the ruling and would not affect Ms Carter in any way.

The main changes announced by Education Minister Joe McHugh and Higher Education Minister of State Mary Mitchell O’Connor will see Leaving Certificate results issue on Tuesday, August 13 next year — a day earlier than they would ordinarily go out to more than 50,000 students. This is expected to facilitate the CAO making first-round offers three days earlier, although the CAO board has yet to formally agree its 2019 schedule.

These improvements will have further implications on the timeframe for students to view their marked exam papers and appeal Leaving Certificate grades.

The delay in her appeal being decided prompted Ms Carter to sue the SEC, as she would have missed out on a place on University College Dublin’s veterinary medicine degree if she had to wait until mid-October for a result.

Instead, Mr Justice Richard Humphreys directed the SEC to fast-track her re-check, which led to her upgrade being notified and being offered a place in UCD.

The judge also directed that the SEC and other parties to the process ensure such delays are not experienced by students in future.

Under the consequent revisions, teachers hired to correct appealed Leaving Certificate papers will now be allowed do so full time in the first few weeks of term in late August and early September. They normally do this work outside school hours on evenings and weekends, but the Irish Examiner understands that funding will be provided to allow schools hire substitutes to cover those teachers’ absences.

The Department of Education would only say last night that there is “likely to be a cost to these measures that will require to be funded” and that details of the proposals will be worked out with various education partners in the coming weeks.

The changes should lead to results of Leaving Certificate appeals being issued between Wednesday, September 18, and Friday, September 20 next year — five weeks after the main results are sent out.

The SEC issued appeal results to 5,197 students on October 10, eight weeks after they got their provisional results. For 349 out of around 1,400 students who got an upgrade, the improved results led to an offer of a college place, but an unknown number of them had to defer starting for a year because of time already lost — unlike Ms Carter who benefited from the court decision.

Under agreement also reached by the department, colleges will not begin any first-year programmes until at least the second week of September from 2019. This should further minimise any tuition time lost by students offered late places after having Leaving Certificate results upgraded.

Meanwhile, the ministers said the department and SEC have appealed aspects of Mr Justice Humphreys’ ruling, confirmed in an October 3 written judgment, including what he said was a constitutional right to higher education. Although it was not part of the substantive case, he determined that an established constitutional right to earn a livelihood would be meaningless without an associated recognition of “a right of reasonable access to available higher education and vocational training commensurate with the ability of the citizen”.

The department said such a right of access to higher education did not previously exist and it considers it not to be correct in law, and wants the issue fully considered by the Court of Appeal.

Rather than any concern over the question of the State having to entirely fund student’s third-level education, the issue is understood to relate more to the possibility of the interpretation being used as the basis of future litigation by a student who did not secure a college place, regardless of their Leaving Certificate or other measures of their academic ability.

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