Leaving Cert 2021: Five key take-aways from this year’s results

Students benefit from choice between exams and accredited grades but CAO points will rise

1. A record-breaking year for the class of 2021
The demand by representatives of the Leaving Cert class of 2021 to be given the only hybrid exam structure in the world will pay handsome dividends when they collectively log onto the State Examinations Commission (SEC) portal at 10am on Friday.

Having the option of securing the best grade in any subject from either the estimated marks of their teachers submitted following an in-school process by the principal and standardised by the SEC or the grade they secured by sitting the exam in that subject in June, has turned out very well for most students

The SEC estimates the result of this process is a set of results which, overall, are 2.6 per cent ahead of 2020 results which were 4.4 per cent ahead of the results from the 2019 examinations.

2. Grade inflation is highest in higher level subjects
Last year, senior sources within the third level sector estimated that while there was grade inflation of 4.4 per cent overall, it was significantly higher - about 10 per cent – in higher level papers.


Similarly, while there is overall grade inflation of 2.6 per cent this year, there are indications it is significantly higher at the top end of higher level papers. An analysis of results for English, Irish and maths in 2021 appears to bear this out.

The proportion of students who secured a H1 in English, for example, has increased from an average of 2.9 per cent in 2017-19 to 4.4 per cent last year and 7.6 per cent this year.

In other words, there has been a 160 per cent jump in the proportion of students gaining a top grade in English in the past two years.

Similarly, in Irish, the proportion securing a H1 increased from an average of 5.4 per cent in 2017-19 to 9.1 per cent last year and 11.9 per cent in 2021. This is a 120 per cent increase in two years.

In higher level maths, the proportion of H1s jumped from 6 per cent during 2017-19, to 8.6 per cent in 2020 to 15.1 per cent in 2021. This is a 150 per cent jump in two years.

3. Students targeted their written exams
Of the 57,952 Leaving Cert students (excluding those taking the Leaving Cert Applied), just 8 per cent - or 5,087 students - opted to only accept their teachers' assessed grades and did not register for the written exams.

The vast majority – 91 per cent – registered to sit at least one written paper. However, in doing so, only 60 per cent of the subject papers were actually taken by students.

This shows that although most students registered to sit all papers, at the end of the day many did not turn up on the day in question. Students, clearly, targeted certain exams – but registered for more to keep their options open.

One school principal lamented during the summer of dumping bin loads of exam scripts into the recycling bin.

4. Choice was a win-win for students
How did students do so well? An analysis of results for this year reveals how students were in a win-win situation.

In cases where students sat exams and availed of accredited grades, they were automatically awarded the higher of the two results.

In just over half of results (52.5 per cent), students were credited with their school-generated accredited grade based partly on teachers’ estimates. The written exam results were higher than accredited grades in 16 per cent of papers. The results were the same between accredited grades and written exams in 31 per cent of results.

5. CAO points set to increase
These excellent results will raise all boats in terms of students' achievements - but they will inevitably also increase the CAO points scores which applicants need to achieve to secure that last coveted place in their desired courses next Tuesday afternoon.

There is a record number of CAO applicants – 84,000 – seeking college places this year, driven by a combination of demographics (high numbers of Leaving Cert students) and overseas applications linked to Brexit. This, along with excellent results, will add to upward pressure on points.

The Government, however, has added about 4,500 additional higher education places in high-demand courses in the hope that it will allow more students to get one of their top choices.

Note: Online helpdesk
The Irish Times results helpdesk (irishtimes.com/helpdesk) will operate from 12 midday on Friday to answer readers' queries on results and college or further education applications