Thursday, January 27, 2022

Gordon Deegan

Leaving Cert and Junior Cert external examiners and attendants missed out on a €34.8 million pay bonanza for 2020 with the cancellation of the State Summer exams.

That is according to the 2020 annual financial statement for the State Exams Commission (SEC) which shows that the total spend by the SEC was reduced by €50.8 million or 71 per cent due to the Covid-19 enforced cancellation of the Summer exams.

Along with the €34.8 million hit to pay for external markers and attendants, travel and subsistence payments to those cohorts reduced by 90 per cent or €8.4 million from €9.34 million to €914,699 for the year.

In total, the amount paid out in 2020 to external examiners and attendants in pay and expenses reduced by €43.2 million compared to 2019.

According to the chairman of the SEC, Patrick Burke, the SEC made “significant savings” in its 2020 allocation following the “extraordinary and unprecedented events” that resulted in the Summer Leaving Cert being cancelled for the first time in the history of the State.

The Government cancelled the June State exams due to the pandemic as the country was emerging from its first lockdown.

Plummeting costs

According to the SEC annual financial statements now laid before the Oireachtas, 122,735 students were due to sit their State exams in Summer 2020.

The SEC – led by CEO, Andrea Feeney since November 2020 – states that a small cohort of 2,000 students did sit their Leaving Cert in November of that year.

The Leaving Cert students to miss out on sitting the exams had their results based on calculated grades.

The Deptartment of Education oversaw the calculated grade system as the SEC didn’t have the legal authority to do so.

The accounts show that 2020 pay for external examiners totalled €3.7 million – down €34.8 million or 90 per cent on the €38.55 million that external examiners were paid by the SEC to correct the Leaving and Junior Certs in 2019.

Similarly, the pay to exam attendants reduced from €1.6 million to €6,195 with the exam cancellations.

The SEC’s bill for transporting exam materials also plummeted – the bill totalled €1.8 million in 2019 and reduced to €53,416 for 2020.

Staff wages for directly employed SEC staff reduced from €12.3 million to €10.6 million and a note attached to the accounts explains that a number of the 170 SEC staff were seconded to the Calculated Grades Executive Office of the Department of Education and their salary and overtime was paid by the department rather than the SEC.

The accounts state that 80 SEC staff transferred to the Deptartment of Education’s Calculated Grades Executive Officer to help oversee the calculated grade system.

The cancellation of the State Exams also had a massive impact on the SEC’s income for the year.

The figures show that the SEC’s exam fee income virtually disappeared from the net €9.35 million received in 2019.

The gross examination fee income for 2019 was €13.5 million and the net amount of €9.35 million is arrived at after taking into account the €4.6 million waived on medical card exemptions.

The SEC also missed out on State exam appeal income that totalled €667,032 in 2019.

The bulk of the SEC’s income comes from Oireachtas grants that reduced from €64.6 million to €22.4 million in 2020 due to the exam cancellations.

The SEC was left with an operating surplus of €1.45 million in 2020 compared to a surplus of €2.85min 2019.

A note attached to the accounts states that the pandemic continued to have financial implications for the SEC in 2021 with the cancellation of the Junior Cert while students sitting the Leaving Cert exams had the option of applying for grades accredited by the SEC.

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