Government urged to ensure 20,000 deferred CAO applicants do not lose out

Results for 25% of those seeking college places risk being devalued by grade inflation

One in four college applicants this year has applied on the basis of Leaving Cert results they achieved in previous years.

One in four college applicants this year has applied on the basis of Leaving Cert results they achieved in previous years.


The Government is facing increasing calls to ensure up to 20,000 deferred third-level applicants do not lose out on college places when Leaving Cert grades are released on Monday.

More than one in four college applicants this year has applied on the basis of Leaving Cert results they achieved in previous years.

However, their results risk being devalued after Minister for Education Norma Foley confirmed that calculated grades for this year’s Leaving Cert class will be “stronger” than results in previous years, leading to some grade inflation.

The scale of the rise is not yet known, but Department of Education officials have said adjustments to the calculated grades process were aimed at “prioritising fairness for the class of 2020 over eliminating grade inflation”.

Sinn Féin TDs Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire and Rose Conway-Walsh accused the Government of “completely ignoring” the cases of those who did their Leaving Cert in previous years.

“The Government has known this issue was coming down the line for months. There is no excuse for not having a plan in place. A plan needs to be communicated. I have heard from so many stressed students who are anxious that they will lose out on places,” said Ms Conway-Walsh.

Political will

Mr Ó Laoghaire said a solution was possible if there was political will to do so, such as ring-fencing a proportion of college places for those affected or adjusting their grades to account for any inflation in this year’s marks.

The CAO confirmed in a statement that a total of 20,201 students are applying for college places this year on the basis of results they achieved in the past.

CAO board chair Prof Pól Ó Dochartaigh said that if there is significant grade inflation in Monday’s results, it would place students with results from previous years at a serious disadvantage. Unlike the UK college application system, he said the Irish system relies on Leaving Cert results being comparable from year-to-year in the interests of fairness.

“If the results are not comparable, then you’re advantaging any year that gets inflated results,” he told RTÉ’s Today with Claire Byrne show. “If this year’s Leaving Certs have inflated grades, it will disadvantage those 20,000.”

Prof Ó Dochartaigh said the idea of ring-fencing places for college students was problematic as the CAO did not have any legal basis on which to do this. If they did, he said colleges would expose themselves to potential litigation from students who felt they were unfairly denied places.

For example, a student from this year’s cohort of Leaving Cert students who ended up losing out on a college place due to spaces being ring-fenced could sue the college concerned.

“This is not for the third level sector to resolve by opening ourselves to litigation. The ball is fairly and squarely in the Department of Education’s court,” he said.

Tight turnaround

He also said the idea of adjusting grades of prior Leaving Cert students to account for any grade inflation in 2020 was very difficult due to the tight turnaround time in processing results.

Any attempt to do this, he said, would likely result in a delay in offers to all college students and might affect the start of the academic year.

A department spokeswoman said the provision of more than 1,250 additional higher education places in “high demand” courses was partly aimed at easing points pressure. She emphasised that a standardisation process has been applied to this year’s calculated grades to ensure they are as close as possible to the grade profile for previous years.

This year’s calculated grade results, meanwhile, are due to be released online at 9am on Monday. Students also have the option of receiving their results at their school. The CAO first round offers will follow on Friday afternoon. All results and college offers will be available online.

The department has advised schools they should enable students to come to their school if they wish to collect their results or seek support over the phone at a scheduled time.

It has advised school managers that they will have discretion to release guidance counsellors and other members of the support team from lessons, using the supervision and substitution scheme.

Schools will have the flexibility to ask some classes of current students not to attend on that day to ensure adequate social distancing in schools.