Leaving Cert: New process results in highest grades on record

Dramatic grade inflation will disadvantage thousands of deferred college applicants

There has been a dramatic increase in top grades awarded to thousands of Leaving Cert students under the calculated grades process.

A total of 60,000 Leaving Cert students will find out what grades they have been awarded online at 9am on Monday morning.

While these grades – the highest on record – will benefit the class of 2020, grade inflation will devalue the results of 10,000-20,000 college applicants whose results were based on exams they sat in previous years.

Calculated grades combine teachers’ estimated marks with a standardisation process overseen by the Department of Education to adjust grades and bring them more into line with previous years’ results.

A breakdown of the results today shows teachers overestimated their students’ marks at all points in the achievement spectrum.

It was most pronounced at higher level, where top estimated grades were sometimes two, three or even four times higher than normal patterns.

While the standardisation process resulted in grades being adjusted downwards, it still resulted in average grades across all subjects and levels increasing by 4.4 percentage points on last year.

Higher level

This scale of the increase is most visible in top grades in higher level subjects in particular.

In art, for example, the proportion of students who secured a H1 climbed from 3 per cent last year to 8.5 per cent this year – a 166 per cent increase in the proportion who secured a top grade this year.

There were also big jumps in the proportion of students who secured H1s in applied maths this year over last year  (up 79 per cent), geography (up 54 per cent), Irish (up 49 per cent), English (up 43 per cent), biology (up 32 per cent) and maths (up 31 per cent).

There was less prevalence of overestimation at ordinary level, where teachers’ estimates were close to historical patterns.

Overall, a total of one in six (17 per cent) of teachers’ estimated grades ended up being pulled downwards to limit the scale of grade inflation.

It was not possible to generate some 2,500 grades – 0.6 per cent of the total – due to a lack of “credible evidence”.

In a statement, Minister for Education Norma Foley said the past few months had been a challenging time for students, their families and school communities.

“However, I do believe what has been created is the fairest possible solution given the extraordinary circumstances in which we find ourselves as we journey together through the Covid-19 pandemic,” she said.

“Today, with confidence, you can look back with pride on all that you have achieved and look forward with courage to the next exciting phase of your lives.”


The scale of teachers’ overestimated grades at higher level is reflected by the fact a total of 60 per cent of grades at that level would need to have been lowered if the intention was to bring them into line with previous years.

Department of Education officials said adjustments to the calculated grades process were aimed at “prioritising fairness for the class of 2020 over eliminating grade inflation”.

If 60 per cent of estimated grades had been lowered, they said it could have threatened confidence in the system.

CAO sources said last night the extent of grade inflation posed “huge problems” for deferred students given that points requirements are set to increase across many courses.

Although the CAO has estimated that up to 20,000 students will be affected, Government sources put the figure closer to 10,000.

The Government says it has provided more than 1,250 additional higher education places – with many in “high-demand” courses – which will partly ease points pressure for these students.

Government sources indicated last night they would monitor how many places were allocated to students in the first round of the CAO offers on Friday afternoon before deciding if additional measures would be needed.

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent