Call to tackle ‘cruel’ grade inflation as college points hit new high

Some students with maximum points failed to get their first choice of college course

Minister for Education Norma Foley has signalled there will be a return to traditional Leaving Cert exams next summer. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

High levels of grade inflation in the Leaving Cert exams are “cruel” and need to return to normal next year, according to universities.

Pól Ó Dochartaigh, deputy president of NUI Galway and chairman of the CAO, said too many students on high points lost out on their chosen courses due to record high grades this year.

In some cases, students who achieved maximum points – 625 – were unable to secure a course place due to the use of random selection, or a lottery.

Universities say the large numbers of high-scoring applicants on the cut-off point for these courses and limited places made it unavoidable.


“It’s cruel – it’s actually cruel,” said Prof Ó Dochartaigh. “Our resources in higher education are finite.”

He said many universities believed it was time to return to the traditional grade distribution prior to the pandemic.

“I think we should go back to the grade profiles in pre-Covid times and regard these as a blip. It’s the fairest way, all round,” he says.

Grade inflation

“Yes, the class of 2021 and, to a lesser extent, 2020 will have an advantage, but it’s better than permanently disadvantaging everyone’s results from before the pandemic.”

Prof Mark Rogers, UCD's deputy president and registrar, also called for an end to this level of grade inflation.

“While we are delighted for students, it is not a sustainable position that entry to our degrees should require achievement of greater than 600 points and, in one case, achieving the maximum points possible in the Leaving Certificate does not guarantee students a place in their course of choice,” he said.

Minister for Education Norma Foley has signalled that there will be a return to traditional Leaving Cert exams next summer. However, she has not said whether grade profiles will return to normal.

Separately, the State Examinations Commission (SEC) has upgraded a total of 144 candidates who undertook the Leaving Cert Applied (LCA) programme this year.


This follows the discovery of a mistake relating to the calculation of marks for a required component known as the “personal reflection task”. It is worth up to 10 credits from the overall total of 190 credits. The SEC said the mistake arose in the final grading process.

All candidates affected have been contacted and notified that they can access an updated programme level award statement.

While a total of about 1,800 candidates were affected, there was no impact on grade or award for them.

The SEC has apologised to the candidates and schools affected by this issue and can assure them that the commission is satisfied that candidates have received their correct results

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent