My son says he can’t appeal his Leaving Cert exam result. Can this really be true?

Ask Brian: Marks for practical elements of some exams cannot be appealed

My son's Leaving Cert agricultural science practical mark was reduced by 30 per cent along with all the students in his class. We wanted to appeal the result, but were told this is not possible. Now, it looks like our son will miss out on his first-choice course. How can this be fair?

Agriculture science is one of only two subjects (the other is music) in the Leaving Cert in which the practical element is graded by the student’s own teacher.

The teacher examines the coursework and assigns a mark out of 100; these marks are then subject to a monitoring process to ensure they are in line with national standards.

This work is undertaken by State Examinations Commission monitors, who visit schools and coursework submitted by all candidates. Interviews are then undertaken with a representative sample of candidates.


These interviews are aimed at providing the monitor with an understanding of the candidates’ familiarity with their coursework and their knowledge of the subject (based on their submitted material).

The monitor awards marks to the work submitted by the representative sample of candidates, in line with the national standards. These marks are then compared to the initial marking undertaken by the class teacher.

If it is established that the initial marking undertaken by a class teacher does not accord with the national standards, all marks are moderated to bring them into line with the national standard.

Moderation may be applied to an entire class or can be applied to marks in a particular grade range and can be revised either upwards or downwards.

In fact, the adjustment of marks for students’ practical work happens quite a lot. In a typical year, marks assigned by about one third of agricultural science class teachers countrywide are subject to moderation (upwards or downwards).

Your son is correct in stating that marks awarded for the practical elements of the agricultural science examination are not subject to an appeal.

This is because of assessment arrangements for the coursework element which includes interviews with certain candidates.

Any examination appeal requires the full review of all the evidence available to the original examiner.

Given the nature of the assessment of the coursework element of this subject, the SEC says such a review is not possible.

Your son’s experience – and those of other students who have written to me in recent weeks outlining similar stories of reduced marks awarded to their agricultural project in 2019 – provide very strong arguments in support of a student’s own teachers not awarding Leaving Cert marks to their students, as argued by teacher unions over many years.

You asked if the outcome for your son is fair? In my opinion, all Leaving Cert content submitted by students should be externally marked and be open to review and appeal.