Colleges may have to create 1,000 extra places after Leaving Cert errors
Number affected by coding mistake in grade calculations will not be known for days
Minister for Education Norma Foley speaking at a press conference on the coding errors found in the Leaving Cert calculated grades system. Photograph: Maxwells
Up to 1,000 extra college places may be needed for students due to errors in calculated grades issued to thousands of Leaving Cert candidates.
Minister for Education Norma Foley apologised on Wednesday for coding errors which resulted in at least 6,500 students receiving a lower grade than they ought to have received.
She said all students affected will be upgraded by at least a single grade – the equivalent of 10 CAO points at higher level – and every effort will be made to ensure no candidate misses out on a college place which they are entitled to.
However, final confirmation on the total number of students affected will not be known for several days as rechecks continue into errors in the calculated grades system.
Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris told a meeting of the Fine Gael parliamentary party on Wednesday night that these figures suggest that anything up to 1,000 extra places could be needed in colleges.
Mr Harris also told the meeting that the CAO had confirmed that any student impacted would be treated as a successful appeal and that a place would be secured in college if available.
If there was no such place available, Mr Harris said he would put in place all resources necessary to fund extra college places.
Third level colleges are due to meet on Friday to discuss ways of creating additional places.
Some university sources said there was serious doubt over whether additional places could be identified in high-demand courses such as medicine or dentistry, and additional funding will be needed.
Mr Harris said he hoped that the full scale of the issue would be known by next week, at which point students may receive new offers.
The disclosures prompted a wave of criticism from Opposition parties, who demanded answers over why it took over a week before the public was told of the errors.
Labour’s education spokesman Aodhán Ó Ríordáin said the Government had “sat on” the information for a week.
“Students weren’t told, parents weren’t told, the opposition wasn’t told,” he said.
Sinn Féin’s education spokesman Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire said students who had accepted offers in colleges away from home on the basis of flawed results would need to be helped financially with the costs.
Ms Foley apologised for the errors and said upgrades will be processed as soon as possible.
“I want to say how sorry I am that this has happened,” she said. “My immediate priority is to fix the errors and their consequences so that students get their correct grades. That is happening right now and the next steps will follow quickly.”
Coding errors were first identified on Tuesday evening of last week when Canadian firm Polymetrika International Inc identified an error in a line of code it was responsible for.
The error affected the academic profile of candidates based on their performance in the Junior Cert.
Instead of using students’ two strongest subjects, their two weakest subjects were used to build an academic profile for classes.
As a result, some students received grades that were lower than they should have been.
An independent US firm – ETS Educational Testing Service – has been hired to review aspects of the coding and to ensure there are no further errors. This work is expected to take “a number of days”, Ms Foley said.
She also defended the delay in making the errors public on the basis that it took time to establish how many students had been affected.