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Students to see their examiners' workings

The government is to send marked exam papers back to schools, reports John Walshe

`IRISH 17 and 18-year-olds are to be allowed to see their marked exam scripts as a result of the government's decision to send all 600,000 Leaving Certificate papers back to schools in September.

The move has generally been welcomed by the public, but school managers have warned of logistical difficulties. The main secondary teachers' union has described the plan as unworkable and has strongly criticised Michael Martin, the minister for education and science, for his lack of consultation.

The decision will, however, do much to restore public confidence, which has been battered in recent years by a succession of embarrassing exam mishaps.

When he was in opposition, Mr Martin took issue with the then education minister over missing art and craft pieces, odd marking, and the loss of part of an engineering project that fell off a lorry into a bog. Since taking office he has introduced confidence-boosting measures such as the appointment of examination commissioners and bar coding of every parcel of exam scripts.

Nobody, however, expected his commitment to transparency to go quite as far as letting students see their scripts. There is little school-based assessment in Irish secondaries and the importance of the written exam is etched into the national psyche. During the exam season in June the media comment daily on the previous day's papers and telephone helplines are available when the results are issued in mid August.

All of the 60,000 candidates will be given an extensive information booklet explaining how the system will work. The scripts will be sent by courier to the country's 800 secondary schools at the start of the academic year in September.

All the former students will be able to return to their old schools and see where they succeeded or failed to get marks. They will be allowed to take one other person into the rooms where the scripts will be available under supervision. In addition, the students will be told for the first time how many marks they obtained in aural, oral, and practical tests which are available in some subjects.

The deadline for appeals will be extended by a fortnight from August 26 to September 10 and the universities are worried that this will cause serious problems. They fear that it will lead to a huge increase in the volume of appeals and that successful applicants will be demanding places at university which have already been allocated.

However, the volume of appeals may be tempered by the fact that, for the first time, students can have their results downgraded as well as upgraded: until now any change was always an improvement and resulted in an upgrade.

The school managers have generally welcomed the decision, but they remain apprehensive about the administrative difficulties it will cause for them.

The students have no suchworries and the decision has done no harm politically to the young minister, who is regarded as the rising star of the Fianna Fail-led administration.

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