State facing 20 High Court actions over Leaving Cert calculated grades process

Belvedere College student’s case chosen as lead challenge due in court this week

The State is facing more than 20 High Court challenges from Leaving Cert students over the calculated grades process and awarding of college places this year.

An action by Freddy Sherry, a Leaving Cert student at Dublin's Belvedere College, has been chosen as the lead challenge over the calculated grades process.

He argues that a direction by the Minister for Education to remove school historical records in the calculated grades process led to him being unfairly downgraded by 55 points in his Leaving Cert.

The outcome of the case is expected to impact on other challenges over the standardisation process, all of which have been adjourned to await the outcome.

The case is due before the High Court on Wednesday, which is scheduled to hear legal argument over access to records. A hearing date is due shortly.

Mr Sherry is being represented by Ferrys Solicitors, which now has a total of five similar cases before the court.

Dublin-based solicitor Eileen McCabe also has six cases challenging the calculated grades process before the court and is finalising a further eight.

Cantillon’s solicitors in Cork has three cases, two of which are on behalf of students who sat the Leaving Cert in 2019 and say they missed out on college places due to grade inflation linked to the calculated grades process.

While most of the 20 cases are being taken by individual students, one involves the board of management of St Kilian’s German school in Dublin and eight of its students. It claims the standardisation process led to an “extraordinary” downgrading of results in German and other subjects there.

In his statement of grounds, Mr Sherry says he was “hugely disappointed” that his teachers’ estimated CAO points total of 542 for him was reduced to 487 under the process.

His first course choice was pharmacy in Trinity College Dublin and he now faced the prospect of sitting the rescheduled Leaving Cert written exams, which begin later this month.

Mr Sherry has argued that the Minister for Education’s decision to “interfere” in the calculated grades process overseen by an independent steering committee was “unlawful”.

He also maintained that the removal of school historical data was “ arbitrary, unfair, unreasonable, irrational and unlawful” and in breach of his legitimate expectations.

In its statement of opposition the Department of Education maintains that there is no reason to believe Mr Sherry would be in an improved position if historical school data was included.

It argued that students in Belvedere College received, on average, higher scores in 2020 compared to the 2017-19 period.

It said the standardisation model used in the calculated grades process did not have any difficulty accommodating groups with a high proportion of high-performing students in an individual school.

It said the use of prior attainment data in the Junior Cert facilitated the model to detect a higher proportion of high-achieving pupils.

It also said the calculated grades process had been completed and CAO offers issued.

As a result, any attempt to reinstate school historical data would be inappropriate or disproportionate given that it would cast doubt on the results of significant numbers of students and their entitlement to college places.

The department’s statement also takes issue with the absence of a definition of a high performing school and notes that Belvedere College - based on its composite Leaving Cert results - was in 71st place.

This was ahead of its ranking over the previous three years where it ranged between 64th and 86th place.

It says there is no basis for any assertion that he would have been treated more favourably in another category of school.