Director of calculated grades office rejects claims about criticism of data exclusion

Andrea Feeney says she made no ‘scathing criticisms’ of exclusion of historical school data

 

The director of the calculated grades office has rejected claims that a document circulated by her contained “scathing criticisms” of the exclusion of historical school data from a calculated grades model, the High Court has heard.

Andrea Feeney had said in an affidavit she had made no “scathing criticisms” of the data and had also said the document was not a briefing document for the Minister for Education, Eileen Barrington SC, for the Minister and State, said.

Ms Feeney had said a reference to some students being “thrown under the bus” if historical school data was excluded was a note outlining possible criticisms of the exclusion of such data and not an expression of her own view, counsel said.

Ms Feeney had said she had been asked by officials in the department to provide background information on calculated grades systems in other jurisdictions. The document was intended for her colleagues to draw upon and reflected her notes further to a “brain-storming” session.

The confidential document was circulated on August 18th following a controversy over grade standardisation models in the UK which had included historical school data.

Entitled Update; National Standardisation; Calculated Grades, the 11-page document examined UK statistical models and how those differed from a draft calculated grades model here.

On September 1st, the Cabinet approved an August 21st decision by the Minister that historical school data should be excluded from the calculated grades process.

Ms Feeney and a number of other public servants have provided affidavits on behalf of the Minister and State in opposing a challenge by Freddie Sherry, a student at Dublin’s Belvedere College, over the exclusion decision.

Mr Justice Charles Meenan, who is case managing the litigation, said on Thursday, given the issues raised, and because this case was the lead case of 30 other cases over grade standardisation, it must be heard as soon as possible. He fixed December 8th for the full hearing, expected to last two weeks.

Because the Sherry case is the lead case, the rights and entitlements of parties in the other cases had been put on hold, the judge noted. He was also conscious students may be physically sitting the 2021 Leaving Cert in about six months, with oral exams scheduled for Easter and, if that was not possible due to public health considerations, calculated grades might again be required.

He considered the core issue in Mr Sherry’s case is whether the Government decision to exclude historical school data from the calculated grades process was unlawful or not and said the sides should focus on that.

In his action, Mr Sherry, from Newtown, Celbridge, Co Kildare, says he was “hugely disappointed” the CAO points total of 542 for him estimated by his teachers was reduced to 487 under the grade standardisation and he lost out on his first choice to study pharmacy at Trinity College.

He claims he had a legitimate expectation the historical school data would be included and the decision to exclude it was unlawful, unfair, unreasonable and irrational.

The judge will rule next week on a number of pre-trial applications heard by him over some four days this week and last. These include whether or not to permit the cross-examination of Ms Feeney and other public servants, including Dalton Tatton, assistant secretary general of the Department of Education, at the Sherry hearing.

The cross-examination, sought by Mr Sherry’s side, was opposed by the respondents. They also opposed Mr Sherry’s bid for orders requiring the State side to provide him with certain data models considered during the calculated grades process.

In another pre-trial application, the Minister and the State want the judge to rule that a memo provided to Cabinet when it approved exclusion of historical school data from the calculated grades cannot be disclosed, on grounds of Cabinet confidentiality, to Mr Sherry’s side.