Calculated grades will be seen as a success even if individual students feel hard done by

Sighs of relief in Government as calculated grades system survives legal challenge

For decades there has been talk of reforming the Leaving Cert and boosting the chances of students from disadvantaged schools. Photograph Nick Bradshaw

For decades there has been talk of reforming the Leaving Cert and boosting the chances of students from disadvantaged schools. Photograph Nick Bradshaw

 

The official reaction from the Minister for Education Norma Foley was muted.

“The Minister for Education has received the judgment of Mr Justice Meenan given today in the case taken by a student in relation to the calculated grades system for Leaving Certificate 2020 and notes its content.”

In reality, she and her senior officials at the department must have punched the air and heaved a sigh of relief.

The legal challenge had the potential not only to cause chaos over last year’s Leaving Cert results but spark a crisis over this year’s revamped version of “accredited grades”.

Barring a successful appeal, it seems likely that most of the 60 or so legal challenges to last year’s calculated grades system will fall. The only exceptions are cases which concern students who say they unfairly missed out on college places due to grade inflation, having applied last year using pre-2020 Leaving Cert results.

At the centre of the case was the Government’s decision to withdraw school historical data from the process of awarding students’ calculated grades.

Freddy Sherry, the Belvedere College student at the centre of the legal challenge. had argued that the system was unfair, unreasonable, irrational and unlawful and in breach of his legitimate expectations.

Mr Justice Charles Meenan found that while removal of school historical data was a breach of the Government’s commitment given to him and others, it did not impact unfairly on Mr Sherry.

An interesting finding from the case is the judge’s acceptance that last year’s grades would, statistically, have been more accurate if they had included school historical data.

However, he found that “statistical accuracy had to be sacrificed to maintain public acceptance”.

The judge noted that use of school historical data would have incorporated inequality into the standardisation process.

“It would not be acceptable to many to factor into the system for the awarding of calculated grades inequality, since it must be a basic principle of any education system to achieve equality of opportunity,” he found.

In many ways, the Irish experiment with calculated grades will now be seen as a success story, even if many individual students still feel bitterly hard done by.

For decades there has been talk of reforming the Leaving Cert and boosting the chances of students from disadvantaged schools.

This model - hatched in the space of a few months - delivered on these fronts and avoided the kind of chaos that took over the UK education system last August.

The Government can now press ahead with this year’s accredited grades model - which also excludes school historical data - safe in the knowledge that it has survived thorough scrutiny in the High Court and has a critical mass of public confidence.

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