Leaving Cert results day: Number of students getting top grades soars to record high

Sharp rise in number of students securing top grades under new twin-track process

Leaving Cert results have climbed to a record high with a sharp increase in the number of students securing top grades.

The stronger outcomes are set to lead to a further jump in CAO points for college courses and may fuel concern over grade inflation and the integrity of grades.

The State Examinations Commission, however, said it stood over the validity of this year's results, which are due to be released to 61,000 students this morning.

It said they were the result of a combination of changes aimed at prioritising fairness for this year’s students due to school closures.


They include an “unprecedented” twin-track system which allowed students to choose written exams, accredited grades based on teachers’ estimates, or both. Students automatically gained the higher of the two results.


New figures show that results, overall, are 2.6 per cent ahead of 2020’s record-breaking results. These, in turn, were 4.4. per cent ahead of the 2019 exams.

However, the scale of the increase is greater in top grades across higher-level subjects.

In higher-level maths, for example, the proportion of students securing a top H1 grade jumped from 8.6 per cent last year to 15.1 per cent this year, a 75 per cent increase.

This pattern is reflected among most higher-level subjects, though the extent of the percentage increase varies.

Teachers’ estimated grades this year were more generous than last year, especially at higher level.

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

Under a standardisation process, overseen by the State Examinations Commission, these estimated grades were adjusted to help ensure greater consistency across schools.


A total of 17 per cent of schools’ estimated grades were pulled down, while 6 per cent were brought up. A majority – 77 per cent – remained the same. This is a similar level of adjustment to last year.

The State Examinations Commission said the focus was to prioritise fairness over strict adherence to national standards in light of the pandemic.

Pat Burke, the commission's chair, said its twin-track approach was "unprecedented" across jurisdictions this year, while Minister for Education Norma Foley said the changes were "fair and equitable".

However, grade inflation is set to devalue the results of an estimated 10,000-15,000 college applicants whose results are based on exams they sat in previous years.

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