Leaving Cert 2020: What you need to know about the appeals process

This year’s process for appealing grades is very different to the usual system

The UCD campus in Belfield. File photograph: Bryan O’Brien/The Irish Times

The UCD campus in Belfield. File photograph: Bryan O’Brien/The Irish Times


From early on Monday, following the release of the Leaving Cert estimated grades for the class of 2020, the queries poured into The Irish Times helpdesk, where our team of guidance counsellors have been answering your questions online.

A huge source of anxiety for callers was not being happy with the grade they achieved in one or more subjects in the assessed grade process, and wanting to know how to go about appealing such grades.

Unfortunately, for those who were disappointed with the grades they were allocated, there is no appealing the percentage marks your teachers awarded you, or the position in which they placed you in the order of achievement in your class group.

Furthermore, the appeals process will not examine any aspect of the accuracy of the four-stage process which led to the grade you received, starting with the percentage mark determined by your subject teacher.

Rather it will simply check the accuracy of the data transfer of results, from your school through the various stages of the internal Department of Education processes.

The department has integrated the timing of the first stage of the appeals process with the start date for college entry in a few weeks’ time. This should, in almost all cases, allow students who do appeal their grade to take up during the 2020/2021 academic year a third-level place that has been awarded to them after a clerical error was discovered, resulting in them receiving an upgraded CAO place following stage one of the appeals process.

If a student were to appeal the first stage of the appeals process, and be successful at the independent appeal scrutineer stage, and consequently receive an improved CAO offer at that stage, they will receive a deferred offer to start their course in the 2021/22 academic year.

Students who opt to sit the Leaving Certificate examinations in mid-November, if it is safe to hold those exams, and who receive an upgrade in one or more subjects, and consequently an improved CAO offer, on foot of these results, will also receive a deferred college offer to start their course in the 2021/22 academic year.

If a candidate who has started the first year of a course becomes entitled to a higher CAO place and chooses to accept same for the following academic year, attendance for the first year on the new course would remain eligible for free fees and Susi funding as appropriate.

If a student chooses to sit the Leaving Cert exam in any subject and their subsequent result is less than the grade awarded on Monday, they will still be entitled to use their assessed grade, whether for CAO entry purposes in 2021/22, or in the future.

All of the results issued this year – calculated grades, appeals and the later examination sitting – will be considered the results of the 2020 Leaving Certificate and can be used in 2021 or in any subsequent year to apply for courses through the CAO application process.

This is totally different to the normal regulations regarding CAO entry, where applicants can only be considered for entry to any course on the basis of the results secured in one sitting of the Leaving Cert.

Other concerns

The second biggest issue raised by those contacting our helpdesk related to those who had sat the Leaving Cert in previous years and are now experiencing huge levels of anxiety over the anticipated increase in CAO points next Friday.

This issue is also exercising the minds of the Government, and there is strong awareness at all levels of our education and political systems of the need to be seen to address the concerns of this group of college applicants.

The Higher Education Authority (HEA) has already sanctioned an additional 1,250 places across the entire third-level sector, and each college is now allocating these extra places across the pressure points of their courses.

Furthermore, under the Government’s “human capital” initiative, a further 1,415 places are being created in science and technology courses to address the needs of the economy in these sectors. These places may also bring down the final CAO points requirements in those programmes.

In the coming hours the third-level colleges will finalise the overall numbers of places which they will be able to offer, which the HEA sanctions and funds with ministerial approval.

At that stage they will apply the CAO points scores of all eligible applicants to the lists of available places.

Only then will we see the level of CAO points inflation for each course on offer, which will be revealed when round one places are offered at 2pm next Friday.

There is still a long way to go before we can discern whether the processes devised to manage the transition from school to college of this year’s college applicants have been successful.