Model would have seen some Leaving Cert grades fall 70%, court hears

High Court hearing submissions in lead challenge of 30 cases over calculated grades

The draft model also showed schools with a historically poor performance in the Leaving Cert would benefit from the exclusion of historical school data,  the High Court heard.  File Photograph: Peter Thursfield

The draft model also showed schools with a historically poor performance in the Leaving Cert would benefit from the exclusion of historical school data, the High Court heard. File Photograph: Peter Thursfield

 

A draft grade standardisation model showed Mount Anville school in Dublin would see a substantial reduction of its traditionally high Leaving Cert grades once historical school data was excluded, the High Court has heard.

The model, introduced due to disruption to exams as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, would have resulted in downgrades for pupils at the fee-paying school in some subjects by up to 70 per cent, the court was told.

The draft model also showed schools with a historically poor performance in the Leaving Cert would benefit from the exclusion of historical school data, Feichin McDonagh SC said.

Ms McDonagh, who is representing Belvedere College student Freddie Sherry in the ‘lead’ challenge of some 30 cases over the calculated grades process, said material obtained from the Department of Education this week showed the Minister was aware of those draft models days before she directed in late August that historical school data be excluded when awarding calculated grades.

The direction by Minister for Education Norma Foley was ratified by Cabinet on September 1st.

Mr McDonagh said the removal of historical data led to “significant detriment” for Mr Sherry, who claims it led to him being unfairly downgraded by 55 points in his Leaving Cert.

Eileen Barrington SC, for the Minister, said the decision to exclude historical school data arose from concerns to ensure fairness and confidence in the calculated grades system here, especially after the “debacle” in the UK leading to its abandonment of a calculated grades process based on including such data.

The draft model referred to was not the final model used in the calculated grades process, she said. The final model was developed from various draft models but her side had never disputed that historical school data was excluded.

Belvedere College did better in relation to Leaving Cert grades this year than in previous years so it could not be assumed Mr Sherry would have done better in his grades if another version of the grade standardisation model was applied, Ms Barrington added.

Both sides were making submissions during a hearing before Mr Justice Charles Meenan on Friday of pre-trial applications in the Sherry case.

Mr Sherry, of Newtown, Celbridge, Co Kildare, also represented by Micheál P. O’Higgins SC and Brendan Hennessy BL, instructed by Ferrys Solicitors, says 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 and he faced the prospect of sitting the rescheduled Leaving Cert written exams, he said.

Critical importance

In a pre-trial application, his lawyers want inspection of two draft grade standardisation models, one excluding historical school data and one including it, which they say are of “critical” importance to the case.

In opposing that application, Ms Barrington said Mr Sherry’s side had not shown inspection of the draft models is necessary for him to make his case.

This case started off with a claim that historical data should not have been taken out, involving arguments between statisticians for the sides, and her side’s statisticians would say it was not possible to know what results would have been with the earlier models, she said.

The Minister and State respondents have also argued some material sought by Mr Sherry’s side attracts the privilege of Cabinet confidentiality.

In challenging that claim, Mr McDonagh said he was not seeking documents concerning Cabinet discussions but is entitled to see material considered by the Cabinet on September 1st in the context of his side’s view that ministers were not briefed objectively on all issues.

The assistant secretary of the Department of Education had issued a memo on August 24th informing relevant bodies to abandon historic school data in which the only reasons given were references to criticism in public discourse which might affect confidence in the system, he said.

“As bizarre as it may sound, it was the fact of the criticism, not its accuracy, that precipitated the change.”

Public servants in the department had since tried “to skirt around” the issue by saying what happened had turned out to be reasonably fair.

His side had been given “the gist” of what Cabinet members were told and is entitled to the documents sought, he said.

The hearing continues on Tuesday.