Wednesday's High Court ruling, in a case involving a student who appealed her Leaving Certificate results, has far reaching ramifications.

Mr Justice Humphreys described the appeals system as "manifestly unfit for purpose", and he directed that the Minister for Education and his department ensure that by next year, appeals are completed before the start of the academic year.


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The Department of Education must now decide how it is going to comply with this direction, and it doesn't have much time.

The appeals process begins at the start of September when students view their marked scripts

The Leaving Certificate results are published in mid August. The CAO makes college offers a few days later.

The appeals process begins at the start of September when students view their marked scripts in their schools.

This year 5,200 candidates appealed the results of 9,092 individual papers. This figure is similar to previous years. Those appeals will be delivered on 10 October.

This is the way it's always been but now the High Court has said that October is too late.

The problem is that teachers who are relied on to correct the exam papers have returned to work in September, and so their availability is curtailed.

There seem to be only two ways that the State Examinations Commission can bring the date on which the appeals process ends forward.

Either the process of correction is begun earlier, or it's done faster. To begin earlier seems impossible. The correcting of papers begins directly after the exams have ended. Beginning the process earlier would mean bringing forward the date of the Leaving Certificate exams. 

The second option, to do it faster, has significant resource implications. It would mean employing many more teachers to correct the papers.

The system is already under huge strain. The difficulty the SEC has encountered in recent years in recruiting sufficient number of teachers in the first place has been well publicised.

The SEC has been forced to employ retired teachers, and even student teachers, to fill gaps. 

Teachers blame the shortage on low pay rates. They point out that remuneration was cut a decade ago and they've lodged a 30% pay claim. They say many teachers - especially the more experienced teachers who are on higher salaries compared to younger colleagues - feel the current pay rates make the work not worth their while. 

Wednesday's ruling raises wider questions too. Does the solution lie with the State Examinations Commission? or could it lie - even partially - elsewhere?

Richard Bruton has asked for a meeting with the SEC and higher education institutions

Interestingly, this evening Minister for Education Richard Bruton said he had asked his officials to convene a meeting with the State Examinations Commission, and with the higher education institutions. It would seem that he thinks that those institutions too may have a role to play. 

Compared to some other countries we have a highly centralised college entry system, run by the Central Applications Office (CAO). 

Is our system too centralised? What can the colleges do? How do other countries avoid the kind of unjust situations so vividly highlighted by Rebecca Carter's case?

These are among the questions that may now be thrashed out. 

Many parents and students who have over the years found themselves in positions like Ms Carter's will feel that any such examination is long overdue.