Leaving Cert results may be withheld if there is evidence of canvassing

CAO chair says grade inflation under new system could increase points for top courses

Students’ Leaving Cert results may be permanently withheld if there is evidence that teachers are being canvassed to improve their calculated grades.

The penalty is due to be included in legislation to be passed by the Oireachtas which will provide a legal footing for this year's exams.

Under plans announced this week, students will have the option of choosing between received calculated grades, sitting the traditional exam in June, or both.

These calculated grades – or “accredited grades” as they are being called this year – will be based on a combination of teachers’ professional judgments and a standardisation process aimed at ensuring fairness and consistency.


The new legislation will also provide an indemnity for teachers and school leaders from any legal action flowing from the results.

An online system will open on March 8th that will allow students to choose if they wish to opt for calculated grades in a subject, or an exam, or both.

A survey of about 3,000 students, released by revision website Studyclix, indicates that about eight out of 10 students plan to sit at least one exam.

Students who choose calculated grades only will have an incentive to remain in school until May 14th as schoolwork completed up to this point will be considered by teachers in their estimates.

Secondary schools are due to close to all students on May 28th – a week early – to allow teachers to complete this calculated grade process.

Teachers' unions, however, have expressed serious concern over key aspects of the plans, and are demanding talks with Minister for Education Norma Foley to seek changes.

While both the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) and the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) are unhappy with the way calculated grades will be used this year, neither union has yet rejected the plan.

The TUI said a decision to apply marks awarded for oral and practical exams only to those completing the exams is “regrettable and regressive”.

The union's general secretary Michael Gillespie said the marks should also be applied to those availing of calculated grades.

Otherwise, he said the decision would likely hurt the credibility of the calculated grades process and reduce the numbers who will sit the exams.

These concerns are shared by the ASTI , whose standing committee met to discuss the issue on Thursday evening.

Meanwhile, the State Examinations Commission has confirmed that exams will get underway on June 9th with English Paper One and will follow the traditional format.

Consistency and fairness

The Department of Education has also provided further details on how the standardisation process for grades will work. This is the method used to adjust grades up or down to ensure consistency and fairness.

It said the calculated grades and exam outcomes will “have regard to the pattern of results in 2020 and previously”.

The use of historical school Leaving Cert data – also known as school profiling – will not be used in determining calculated grades this year.

The chair of the CAO, meanwhile, has warned that points for high-demand courses may rise above last year's record levels due to the use of a calculated grades-style system.

Prof Pól Ó Dochartaigh of NUI Galway said this system was linked to significant grade inflation last year. When combined with a 9 per cent increase in applications this year, he said this could add further to the points race.

While the Government provided thousands of additional college places in a bid to ease points pressure last year, he said there was less scope to do so in 2021 as key areas such as medicine, dentistry and veterinary science were running at capacity.

“That, potentially, means higher points for high-demand courses,” he said.

Last year the number of students securing 625 points almost trebled, while the number securing more than 600 points doubled, he added.

“This raises the question over how do you differentiate between candidates if it all gets bunched up at the top,” he said.

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