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Students who have a seizure during Leaving Cert exams can now access deferred sitting

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We are pleased to confirm that new criteria announced today by the State Examinations Commission (SEC) will provide a pathway for students with epilepsy who experience a seizure DURING an exam to access a deferred sitting of the exam later in the summer.

Today’s SEC circular finally addresses a long-standing issue for generations of Leaving Cert students with epilepsy, an issue that Epilepsy Ireland has advocated on for over a decade.

The circular states:

 The scheme for 2023 is being provided on the same grounds as in 2022 with one change in order to provide for a candidate who experiences an extreme medical emergency during an examination.

Specific reference is made to epilepsy and a seizure during an exam as an example of what constitutes a medical emergency which might prevent a student from completing their paper.

The news means that students with epilepsy who are unable to sit an exam because of a seizure either prior to or during their exam will now be able to apply for access to a deferred sitting. While welcome changes were made in 2022 to allow deferred sittings for certain medical conditions, students could not apply if a medical event occurred during the exam, once they had seen the exam paper.

The new criteria also provides for additional time (now 5 days instead of the previous 4) to acquire medical evidence to support the application, although evidence can still only be accepted from a Consultant, rather than a GP, specialist nurse etc. While this is a short window, given the pressures on the neurology service and the possibility that consultants may be unavailable e.g. other work commitments; annual leave etc, we acknowledge that there are complexities and time-pressures facing the SEC in organising a second set of exams in a short timeframe. In our meetings with the SEC earlier this year, it was noted that every application will be treated with compassion and understanding, and therefore we strongly recommend that if you cannot get a letter within the timeframe for whatever reason, it is important that this is communicated to the SEC. Epilepsy Ireland has been working closely on this issue with the Irish Epilepsy League – the Irish Branch of the International League Against Epilepsy. We have shared information around the new criteria with them and this has been circulated amongst their clinician members.

As was the case last year, the application process in all cases is school-led and is NOT an automatic entitlement. A high threshold of evidence of impact is required. 

We have briefly outlined the process below should a student experience a seizure before/during an exam:

  • Student or parents/ guardians should notify the school immediately (same day as the exam) if the student is absent from or had to leave the examination.
  • The school is required to make an initial application (online) to the SEC on the same day. Both the school and the candidate and/or parent/ guardian must complete a declaration as part of the application.
  • Medical evidence (from CONSULTANTS ONLY) for the reason behind the absence/emergency must be submitted online by the school to the SEC within 5 working days.

The SEC circular which explains the criteria and the process in more detail is available to download at the end of this article, or by visiting the SEC website. It has been sent to all schools directly, but as this is the first year of the new criteria, we recommend that students with epilepsy sitting the Leaving Cert exam this year (or their parents) should alert the school to this document and ensure they are familiar with the new process.

This is an extremely welcome development for students with epilepsy sitting the Leaving Cert this year, and will alleviate what for decades, was an unnecessary additional worry at one of the most stressful periods of the young person’s life. We will monitor how the new system works in practice in June, and we hope that the new rules will finally close the door on the longstanding issue of appropriate ‘reasonable accommodations’ for students with epilepsy.

We would like to thank the State Examinations Commission and the Minister for Education for their understanding and for addressing this matter. We also want to thank the dozens of TDs and Senators who regularly raised this issue in the Dáil in recent years.

Most importantly, we want to thank you - our members, service users, and volunteers - for regularly using your voice to help amplify our calls to finally achieve this positive change for future generations of students with epilepsy.

Together, we can achieve a society where no person’s life is limited by epilepsy.