Calls for review of Leaving Cert grading system as Cabinet to discuss new Covid restrictions

Opposition parties call for review of plan after British government U-turn on results

Sinn Féin and the Labour Party urged Minister for Education Norma Foley to explain how the Irish system would not mean the same level of grades being marked down. File photograph: Getty

Sinn Féin and the Labour Party urged Minister for Education Norma Foley to explain how the Irish system would not mean the same level of grades being marked down. File photograph: Getty

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The Government is coming under pressure to change its calculated grading system for Leaving Cert students after similar “standardisation” measures in the United Kingdom were scrapped amid controversy on Monday.

Opposition parties last night called for a review of the Government’s plan after the British government made a U-turn on A-level results, abandoning its standardisation process when students learned that up to 40 per cent of the grades estimated by their teachers had been marked down by the process.

The Government has a similar process for estimating grades, taking into account the teachers’ predicated grades, but also a series of other factors including a school’s previous results.

Sinn Féin and the Labour Party urged Minister for Education Norma Foley to explain how the Irish system would not mean the same level of grades being marked down.

Sources said that the Opposition parties were briefed on the process for estimating grades two weeks ago but were only offered general assurances about the system.

Sinn Féin’s Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire said the UK experience “raises enormous questions for the calculated grades process here”.

He warned that the Irish system could mean students from disadvantaged schools that have a history of lower results “are very worried that they will have their results dragged back because of where they are or what school they went to”.

Labour spokesman for education Aodhán Ó Ríordáin said the Government was operating an “it’ll be grand” approach to calculated grades and schools reopening.

Aodhán Ó Ríordáin: “I absolutely believe we will recover from this and we will have better days again,” he said
Aodhán Ó Ríordáin: criticised an “it’ll be grand” approach. File photograph: Eric Luke

Following controversies in Britain there was now a “galloping momentum” to review the calculated grades process in Ireland, said Mr Ó Ríordáin.

“What we need to know from the Minister is why our system won’t have the same problems as the UK system,” said Mr Ó Ríordáin. He said Ms Foley should appear at the Oireachtas Covid-19 committee this week to answer questions about the system.

A spokesman for the Department of Education said Ms Foley was aware of the policy developments around grades in the UK on Monday, but reiterated the Irish system “will treat students fairly and equitably”.

A student wearing a mask takes part in a final secondary school exam in Hong Kong. Photograph: Kin Cheung/AP
Students in masks take part in final secondary school exam in Hong Kong. File photograph: Kin Cheung/AP

The Irish process was working from estimated percentage marks provided by teachers, rather than grades as in the UK, said the spokesman. This would give officials working on the standardisation of results “considerably more detailed information about students for use in the calculated grades process”, he said.

“Strong measures have been put in place to identify and reward exceptional students from schools that typically in the past would have performed at average or below average levels.”

Coronavirus restrictions

Meanwhile, a full Cabinet meeting has been scheduled for this morning at short notice, leading to speculation that further restrictions to combat the recent rise in cases could be introduced. One political source suggested new enforcement measures may be on the cards, requiring the approval of the full Cabinet.

However, it is understood there will be no further county lockdowns arising from the meeting.

It was previously expected that only the Cabinet sub-committee on Covid-19 would meet would meet on Tuesday to discuss the latest recommendations from the National Public Health Emergency Team, which held a lengthy meeting on Monday to discuss the recent increase in case numbers and the merits of any new restrictions.

Political sources said that further restrictions on nursing home visits could be introduced, while trends in testing, and current outbreaks in meat plants and other facilities are also set to be on the Cabinet agenda.

It has also emerged that about 28,000 people in receipt of the Pandemic Unemployment Payment will receive no benefit from Tuesday after failing to confirm their continued eligibility for the scheme.

Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys said the payment continued to be a “vital source of income” for thousands of individuals, but “resources are not unlimited and we need to ensure that this money goes to the people and families who genuinely need it”.

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