Minister insists Leaving Cert students’ results will be ‘accurate, reliable and fair’ to all

Controversy in Scotland after government reverses the downgrading of 124,000 students’ calculated grades

 

Minister for Education Norma Foley has moved to reassure thousands of Leaving Cert students that the new calculated grades system will be “accurate, reliable and fair to all students”.

Her comments follow controversy in Scotland after the government reversed the downgrading of almost 125,000 students’ calculated grades based on teachers’ predictions.

Pupils in the poorest areas had been marked down the most, which prompted a public outcry, an apology from Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon and a reversal of all downgrades on Tuesday.

The controversy has sparked concerns that the Irish approach – which, like the Scottish version, takes into account pupils’ past performance as well as their school’s historic grades - will penalise children from poorer communities.

In a statement, a spokesman for the Department of Education said it noted the recent release of second level exam results to students in Scotland and the decisions made on Tuesday in respect of these.

“The department and the Minister appreciates that this may cause anxiety for Irish students, awaiting their Leaving Certificate Calculated Grades results this year,” the spokesman said.

“The Minister would like to reassure all students that the stated aim of the calculated grades system is that the results will be accurate, reliable and fair to all students.”

He said the system was developed in close consultation with representative bodies of students, parents, teacher unions, school management and the higher and further education and training sector.

“The process includes a national standardisation process, validation of the statistical model and quality assurance checks to ensure that this will be the case,” the spokesman said.

“The statistical process in Ireland takes account of whether the group of students taking a subject in the school this year is academically stronger (or weaker) than in previous years.

“This means that the distribution of grades emerging from the school is not pre-ordained to be the same as it was in previous years.”

He said the process is overseen by international experts and an advisory group.

“This process is still ongoing, and work is continuing to ensure that all students are treated fairly,” the spokesman added.

However, Opposition parties said they were still not convinced that the process will be fair to all students.

Labour’s education spokesman Aodhán Ó Riordáin TD said the education department in Scotland made similar reassuring statements which have since been proven to be unfounded.

“The department has to be willing to readjust and reassess the process if what happened in Scotland is repeated over here. Over there, the minister for education and first minister were willing to accept responsibility immediately and corect the process. Our minister needs to be ready to do likewise and not hide behind the process if it is in doubt.”

The Irish Second Level Students’ Union said it hoped that officials overseeing the calculate grades process in Ireland will learn lessons from the Scottish experience.

Reuban Murray, the union’s president, said: “Nicola Sturgeon, in her apology, said there was a focus on the process and not the students. There’s now a chance to learn from that and revaluate our process.”

The National Parents’ Council Post-Primary said it had given guarantees by the Department that the process being adopted in Ireland will be fair and equitable to all students.

“We were guaranteed that fairness and we won’t accept anything less,” said Paul Rolston, the council’s spokesman.

“In Ireland, the calculated grades process is only halfway through the system, so there is time to check and re-check everything to ensure fairness and equity apply in all cases.”

Ann Piggott, vice president of the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI), said the decision in Ireland to defer the release date for Leaving Cert results to September 7th was indicative of a commitment to be as fair as possible to students.

Data being considered in each case to help ensure results were fair included marks by teachers, a student’s previous exam results, such as in the Junior Certificate, and national averages, she said.

She also highlighted the willingness of teachers to give up much of their summer to help the students do themselves justice despite the disruption to their education by the pandemic.

“We wait in hope,” she said, referring to September 7th, “and would hope our system will be done very fairly. That this has become a big issue in Scotland will help ensure it won’t happen here,” she said.

The calculated grades process involves teachers’ predictions of what students would have achieved in the Leaving Cert along with the student’s rank order in a class.

This data is then subject to a national standardisation process which will include a review of the performance of this year’s group of students against their overall performance at Junior Cycle.

The department said this national standardisation process is necessary to provide the class of 2020 with grades which will be of equal standing and currency to previous and future Leaving Certificate grades.

It said this statistical process takes account of whether the group of students taking a subject in the school this year is academically stronger - or weaker - than in previous years.

This means that the distribution of grades emerging from the school is not pre-ordained to be the same as it was before.