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Topical Issue Debate - State Examinations

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 762 No. 1

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Deputy John O’Mahony: Information on John O'Mahony Zoom on John O'Mahony I thank the Ceann Comhairle for selecting this topic for debate. The issue I raise, while simple, is very important to those who are or, as the case may be, not at the receiving end of it. I refer to the appointment of supervisors for State examinations, specifically the junior certificate and leaving certificate. This year I have been contacted more often than in previous years by young, part-time, temporary and unemployed teachers who meet the criteria for selection as supervisors but who have for some years found it impossible to secure an appointment in supervision. Such an appointment would provide supplementary income to help them make ends meet.

Last week’s conferences of the teacher unions produced much debate about reduced salaries for teachers and new entrants to the teaching profession. While that is a debate for another day, it is an issue related to the matter I raise.

On taking office last year, the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, issued a circular instructing schools to offer part-time or substitute positions to qualified unemployed teachers. I commend him for taking action in that regard and ask him to avail of the opportunity to act in a similar manner. While I accept that it may be too late to act in respect of appointments as supervisors for this year’s State examinations as most of them have been made, the Minister should ensure those appointed to the reserve list of supervisors are drawn exclusively from the ranks of part-time or unemployed teachers.

I understand up to 12,000 supervisors are appointed each year. Figures for 2010 indicate that only 7% of appointees are unemployed teachers. My simple request is that the €9 million expended each year on the supervision of State examinations be directed towards those who deserve it most, namely, part-time, temporary and unemployed teachers. Clearly, those appointed must be qualified and able to do the job to the highest standards.

Minister of State at the Department of Education and Skills (Deputy Sean Sherlock): Information on Sean Sherlock Zoom on Sean Sherlock I thank the Deputy for raising this issue.

The State Examinations Commission was established as an independent agency in 2003 to deal with all operational issues relating to State examinations. The Minister does not have a role in the selection criteria for the appointment of superintendents of State examinations. The State Examinations Commission has provided me with the following information. During the period of the written examinations each June much of the integrity of the examination process depends on the manner in which superintendents perform their assigned tasks. It is a critical role, one that has been performed with excellence, skill and dedication by thousands of superintendents during the years.

Superintendents have a range of important duties during a three week period in June. These include the safe custody of the examination papers and completed examination scripts and the safe and proper conduct of each day’s examinations in line with the rules and procedures laid down by the State Examinations Commission.

Some 4,700 superintendents have been appointed by the State Examinations Commission to almost 750 second level schools for the 2012 examinations. This does not include almost 9,000 superintendents appointed locally by schools, mindful of the specific needs of each individual student, to supervise students with special educational needs. Typically, examination superin[63]tendents are drawn from the pool of unemployed, serving and retired teachers. They are appointed each year by the State Examinations Commission through public advertisement in the national newspapers, by issuing last year’s superintendents with an application form and providing supplies of application forms for all post-primary schools. Examinations centres can accommodate up to 50 examination candidates.

In the main, the State Examinations Commission appoints experienced teachers as examination superintendents. There is a long-standing policy of appointing unemployed and substitute teachers before drawing on other applicants. It is considered that teachers’ classroom management skills and experience of working with young people are equally required for the effective conduct of the examination superintending duties. For reasons of examination integrity, superintendents are not assigned to their own school, any school in which they have taught in the previous five years, any centre in which they have a relative sitting an examination or within a 16 km radius of their home address.

I hope I have responded adequately to the Deputy’s concerns.

Deputy John O’Mahony: Information on John O'Mahony Zoom on John O'Mahony While I thank the Minister of State for his reply, it does not get to the kernel of the issue. I received the following e-mail from a constituent last week:

. . . I’m just emailing you in relation to the selection process as to how teachers are selected to supervise our national exams in the month of June. As a part time secondary teacher I’ve applied five years in a row and to no avail every year even though I know many retired teachers and principals carry out this work every summer.

This sums up the message I am getting. How many part-time or temporary teachers and how many retired teachers were appointed as examination superintendents in 2011? The Minister of State may provide the figures later if they are not available.

As I noted, the Minister issued an instruction to schools to appoint qualified unemployed teachers to new positions. Could a similar instruction be given to schools in respect of last minute supervisory appointments, for which I understand they are responsible? Surely, if the Minister can issue an instruction to primary schools on recruitment, he can issue an instruction to secondary schools on examination superintendent positions.

Deputy Sean Sherlock: Information on Sean Sherlock Zoom on Sean Sherlock I have full sympathy for the point made by the Deputy. While he makes a logical and cogent case, if I am to be honest, we must speak to the independence of the State Examinations Commission in terms of the role of superintendents and so forth. The Deputy is absolutely right. The Minister for Education and Skills made statements on the role of retired teachers.

I respectfully ask the Deputy to put down a parliamentary question in respect of getting those numbers. If he would like to communicate with me afterwards, perhaps we can discuss a mechanism by which this issue should be raised with the State Examinations Commission, so as to allow for a situation to exist whereby the person who wrote to the Deputy would at least have some sort of a chance, having applied for five years in a row, if I understand the Deputy correctly. That throws up a particular scenario which, on the basis of common sense, should be raised as an issue. There is a public issue involved and I have sympathy with the case the Deputy is making.

I will talk to the Minister about this. If it is an independent commission then there may be issues about how to approach it and the commission’s clear and unambiguous role in this. However, I certainly have sympathy for the view expressed. I do not see why we cannot have [64]— at the risk of being accused of ageism — younger, part-time teachers taking up these roles on an annual basis. I will talk to the Deputy afterwards.

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