Leaving Cert may end up as traditional exam as ‘school profiling’ ruled out

Use of historical data discarded as ‘too problematic’ as format decision likely soon

The Leaving Cert may end up as a traditional exam this summer with additional choice for students after officials ruled out the use of “school profiling” for a hybrid model.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin and other party leaders were informed by senior officials earlier this week that a hybrid or accredited grades model – based on teachers' estimates – might need to draw on schools' historical results in the Junior Cert exams.

This is due to the absence of exam data for about 25 per cent of this year’s Leaving Cert candidates, who did not sit the Junior Cert in 2020 when it was cancelled due to Covid-19 concerns.

This data is regarded as crucial in the standardisation process, which aims to ensure teachers’ estimated grades in different schools are equitably awarded.

However, Government sources said the use of this data has now been ruled out in the event that some form of accredited grades is used because it could prove to be as “too problematic”.

A decision on the format of this year’s Leaving Cert is likely in the next week or so.

The Government had planned to use school profiling in 2020 when Leaving Cert exams were first replaced by a system based on teachers’ estimates.

However, it dropped the plan following opposition claims this could penalise students attending school in disadvantaged areas.

Officials are now understood to be examining whether it is possible to generate accredited grades in a different way that is fair and equitable.

One Government source said it was their understanding that Leaving Cert options have now narrowed. “It seems to be edging towards traditional exams this year, with greater choice for students,” they said.

Disruption

While additional choice in questions in the forthcoming State exams were announced last August, officials have been exploring ways of going further due to the level of Covid-related disruption which has occurred since.

This could see a similar level of choice incorporated into the summer exams as was used last year.

Another Government source said all options were still being considered and nothing had been ruled out. “Things are still at a delicate stage,” they said.

Students are calling for the introduction of a hybrid Leaving Cert on the basis that many have experienced significant disruption to their studies due to the pandemic.

Teachers’ unions are opposed to grading their students for the purposes of the Leaving Cert and say further adjustments to the exams are needed.

It is understood Mr Martin, along with Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and Green Party leader Eamon Ryan, were briefed on potential options for the format of this year's exam on Monday by Minister for Education Norma Foley and her officials.

The decision to omit school profiling in the 2020 Leaving Cert was at the centre of an legal challenge taken by Belvedere College student Freddie Sherry, who argued that the decision impacted unfairly on his results.

However, the High Court ruled that the Government was fully entitled to make changes to the standardisation model which they considered to be in the public interest.

It found that Mr Sherry had not shown he, or Belvedere, were subject of an unfairness arising from the final approach taken and had "certainly not" established an unfairness that would lead the court to conclude the system was unlawful.