Belevedere College student and St Kilian’s German school take Leaving Cert cases

High Court judge says ‘lead’ case concerning standardisation of grades will be heard next month

St Kilian’s German school in Dublin took a case claiming the standardisation model lead to an “extraordinary” downgrading of results in German and other subjects there.

A High Court judge has said a "lead" case concerning standardisation of 2020 Leaving Cert grades will be heard next month, only if lawyers agree which of three separate cases brought over standardisation will be that lead case.

One of the cases is by Freddy Sherry, a Leaving Cert student at Dublin's Belvedere College. He claims the Minister for Education's "interference" last August with the work of the Independent Steering Committee on Calculated Grades, directing it not to rely on previous school data or schools historic records in the standardisation process, lead to him being unfairly downgraded by 55 points in his Leaving Cert this year.

A second case is by the Board of Management of St Kilian’s German school in Dublin and eight of its students, who claim the standardisation model lead to an “extraordinary” downgrading of results in German and other subjects there.

Aine Finnegan, from Fairview in Dublin, claims in the third action the standardisation process meant she unfairly missed out on a place in Medicine in Trinity College Dublin by two points.


When all three cases were mentioned before Mr Justice Charles Meenan on Wednesday, he was asked to fix a hearing date in late October.

The judge said an October hearing date was entirely dependent on a lead case being identified. Unless the sides reached agreement by next week on which of the cases should be a lead case, he would not fix a hearing date in this law term, which runs to December 21st, he stressed.

Brian Kennedy SC, for the Minister for Education and Skills, the Minister for Further and Higher Education and the State, earlier said the cases involved a "systemic" challenge to the calculated grades process and his side would need at least four weeks to prepare opposition papers.

Feichin McDonagh SC, with Micheál P. O’Higgins SC and Brendan Hennessy BL, for the applicants, said the cases were not a systemic attack on the calculated grades but concerned a Ministerial decision last August to “interfere” in that process in response to some criticism in public discourse.

In the case by Mr Sherry, of Newtown, Celbridge, Co Kildare, he said, while Belvedere College does not have "formal streaming" of classes, he says he was in the "faster moving" Leaving Cert classes in four subjects as well as being in the only class in Latin. As a result, expected the students in most of his classes would have had a high number of H1 and H2 grades.

He had studied consistently for his Leaving Cert until May 8th when the cancellation of the exam and its replacement with a calculated grades system was announced.

He had relied on the respondents guidelines published on May 20th for students and schools which explicitly stated the standardisation process would combine the school sourced grades and the respondents school sourced data at school and national level to ensure the calculated grades reflected standards properly aligned across schools and with a national standard.

Contrary to the express representations by the respondents, the process has not relied on previous school data or historical data on a national level during the standardisation process and that was announced by the Minister at a press conference on September 1st 2020.

He was “hugely disappointed” his teachers’ estimated CAO points total of 542 for him was reduced to 487 under the process.

His first course choice was pharmacy in TCD, he had decided not to take up a CAO offer of Chemical Sciences with Medicinal Chemistry in the Technical University of Dublin and may now may have to sit the Leaving Cert exam in November.

H1s in German

In the St Kilian’s case, it is claimed the school consistently achieves a high number of H1s and H2s in Leaving Certificate German.

It is “impossible to reconcile” that background with the Calculated Grades actually received by students of St Kilian’s, its principal Alice Lynch said in an affidavit.

One student had had the school’s estimated mark of 90 per cent for her reduced to a H3 while another student was downgraded from a H2 to H4 and was refused a CAO place since he did not have the H3 German requirement for the course in TCD.

The calculated grade system was “inherently flawed” and failed to take into account the proven level of German academic attainment for the students in the school.

In her action, Ms Finnegan, who studied for her Leaving Cert at the fee-paying Institute of Education in Dublin, missed out on a place in Medicine at TCD by two points after three of her calculated grades were reduced, also alleges unfairness in the process.

Joe Jeffers BL, for TCD, told the court the college could not give an assurance, as sought by her lawyers, to hold a place for her on the course pending the outcome of her action. Mr McDonagh said his side would correspond with TCD about that matter.

Earlier on Wednesday, a fourth case, by Martha Woods, who got 613 points in the 2019 Leaving Certificate, was withdrawn. Ms Woods, Murragh, Enniskeane, Co Cork, had said the points for dentistry in UCC rose this year from 590 points to 613, the final applicants for that course all had 613 points, places were allocated by random selection and she failed to get a place. Because she has since got a place in the UCC Dentistry course, that case is not proceeding.

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan is the Legal Affairs Correspondent of the Irish Times