Are Irish parents victims of a €6m exam rip-off? That question was posed this week by a prominent County Waterford politician.

Tramore Town Councillor and former Mayor Joe Conway, who is also a retired Primary School Principal, maintained that around a hundred thousand parents around the country are hit on the double with unnecessary examination fees at this time of year.

“Over the next few weeks, their children – around fifty thousand of them – will be sitting mock examinations that are of debatable value”, argued the outspoken councillor. “In Waterford, the number affected stands at around fifteen hundred. And for the privilege, they are being charged between €100 and a hefty €160”.

He said the State Examination Commission had “no view” on the worth of those exams, but would merely say that the decision to hold them was a matter for the Board of Management of each individual school.

Cllr Conway further stated: “In another few weeks, the Commission itself will be seeking a further €103 per student to enter as a candidate for the Junior Cert – a fee that has gone up from €95 in 2008 (8.5%), at a time when annualised inflation for the year was around 3.5%. This rise was imposed by the Minister for Education and handed down to the Commission, with no discretion in the matter.

“In fairness indeed to the State Commission, it does at least offer a waiver system to the hard-pressed. Parents holding Medical Cards are exempt. But, no such luxury attends the mocks – the fee is levied without any reference to a waiver.

“These mocks, combined with Christmas tests and the Junior Cert itself, result in fifteen and sixteen year olds undergoing the stress of exams three times in a six-month period. Is this a defensible or desirable regime for youngsters?

“A further feature of the mock system is that it deprives the students of at least a week’s teaching at a critical time of year, and the destabilising effect of being examined on a course that he or she has not completed.

“Assessment is indeed an integral part of school work, but assessment does not have to be done externally. There is a raft of formidable arguments why it should not be so. Developing bespoke assessment tools is a critical part of a teacher’s profession. To leave such a weighty part of it to faceless outside bodies impedes the development of assessment skills in the teaching force in general.

“Waterford parents alone will fork out around €200,000, in hard-pressed times, for an exam process that is unnecessary and of questionable benefit”.

So, the councillor concludes, for the reasons outlined, the mock exams, at least at Junior Cert level, should be looked at critically by Boards of Management countrywide.