CAO points likely to increase across many courses

Brian Mooney: Greater number of grades at higher level could lead to third-level points jump

The teachers of Ireland put on the "green jersey" when they sat down with their fellow subject teachers in June, to assess their students' potential performance in the calculated grades process.

In some cases, the levels of optimism were off the Richter scale and had to be pulled back by the special unit established within the Department of Education (DES) to implement the calculated grade process.

Last week the department revealed that this process had reduced teachers grades by on average at least one level in 17 per cent of cases.

Reduction process

In the UK and Northern Ireland where this reduction process occurred prior to the collapse of their system and the reversion to the original teachers' assessments, the reduction in grades was in the region of 40 per cent.


Given teachers’ estimation of their students potential performance would not differ greatly here, it was to be expected that a similar level of grade inflation would affect the Leaving Cert class of 2020.

That gap between the 40 per cent reduction originally applied in the UK and the 17 in the Irish system is starkly evident in Monday’s results.

Overall, the proportion of students securing top grades at higher level is significantly ahead of last year. This means CAO points are likely to increase substantially across many courses.

The level of the increase will be determined by the points differential between grades achieved this year as compared to previous years’ averages.

For example, students securing a H1 in a higher-level paper will receive 100 CAO points. Whereas those receiving a H2 will receive 88 points. Therefore, every extra student who secures a H1 over and above previous years increases their point score by 12.


In Irish the H1’s awarded are increased in 2020 over the 2019 figures by 49 per cent, in English 43 per cent, in maths 31 per cent, in geography 54 per cent, in art 166 per cent, in applied maths 79 per cent and so on.

Students securing a H2, H3, and H4, secure 11 CAO points for each additional grade achieved.

Across the four highest grade levels, for example, the proportion of students securing these grades is up across the board. In Irish they are up by 49, 11, 22, and 7 per cent respectively compared to last year, in English by 43,31,21 and 3 per cent, in maths by 31, 35, 25, and 3 per cent.

If on average students secure a higher grade in four of their seven subjects that is an increase of 45 CAO points for each of those students.

Many students may secure a higher grade than they might have achieved in any other year, across most of their six highest subjects and this will inevitably feed through to higher CAO points across the board.

The Government is aware of the challenge this will pose to the college application process and have provided 1,200 additional places across both higher and further education levels, with 340 of those places in high points courses.

This would seem to be a case of trying to fit a pint into a half-pint glass. The level of grade inflation which has been allowed through the assessment process will result in many happy former sixth-year students on Monday when they log on to their computers at 9am, to receive their results.

There is a widespread misperception among the general public and many students, that points are determined by the colleges and that you aim to reach that target over the two years of your Leaving Cert studies. The UCAS system in the UK works on that basis. If you meet the target grades the college or course director in question set you, then you secure your place.


The CAO points tables published in Monday’s Irish Times are those of the students who secured the last places in the course in 2019. If the number of places offered this year are roughly the same as last year, the last lucky applicant through the door may in fact have 40-50 more CAO points than the equivalent student last year.

There may be a level of justice in what is going to occur next Friday as it relates to this year’s Leaving Cert class. The rising tide or green wave will raise all boats, but the highest-achieving students will still secure the coveted high demand courses, leaving many who this year secured the points required in 2019 bitterly disappointed.

Where this fairness breaks down is in relation to the 20,201 deferred third-level applicants from previous years who have had no such benefit from the generosity of their teacher’s optimism and are stuck with the results they achieved when they sat the Leaving Cert.

They will look with growing trepidation at the celebration of their younger peers today and reflect on what these results will mean for their hopes of securing their longed-for course in the coming weeks.

How will the Minister for Education deal with this reality when it reveals itself after 2 pm next Friday afternoon?

Hoping that the effect of releasing bad news on a Friday afternoon, which will be forgotten by Monday morning will, I suspect, not wash in this case.

Brian Mooney

Brian Mooney

Brian Mooney is a guidance counsellor and education columnist. He contributes education articles to The Irish Times