Will grade inflation affect my hopes of securing a course in the UK or Ireland?

Ask Brian: UK universities may set higher entry scores in anticipation of inflated grades

We live in Donegal and my daughter has applied for college places through Ucas and the CAO. Given recent changes in the UK and Ireland regarding how students will receive their grades in 2021, will this affect entry requirements?

Firstly, let’s be clear on how students will be assessed and graded in both jurisdictions.

In the UK students will receive grades awarded and determined exclusively by teachers. No algorithm will be used, so whatever grades teachers award will stand. Each UK university and college will make their admissions decisions at different times. However, if your daughter applied to Ucas by January 29th, 2021, she will receive any offers by May 20th, 2021.

Teachers in the UK and the North must submit grades to exam boards by June 18th, allowing as much teaching time as possible before teachers make their assessments. Results days for A level will take place in the week of August 9th.


In the Republic, written Leaving Cert exams will proceed on June 9th as normal. However, students will also have the option of accredited grades based partly on teachers' estimates.

The Leaving Cert 2021 results for individual subjects will be awarded on the basis of the better of either students’ performance in the Leaving Cert or accredited grades.

These accredited grade results will be based on a school estimate of a student's expected performance in an exam, plus a standardisation process aimed at achieving consistency and fairness. This process is likely to draw on national data on past Leaving Cert and Junior Cert exams of students in each subject.

Last opportunity

Your daughter has until this evening at 6 pm to register on the State Examination Commission's (SEC) "candidate portal" to confirm all her subjects and levels entry details; opt for the exams and/or receive accredited grades.

As today is the last opportunity to do so, I would encourage her to register for both processes to maximise her chances of securing the highest overall grade possible.

In coming to their decision on assessed grades, teachers over the coming weeks may hold in-class, teacher-designed tests. According to the Department of Education, the test should be no more than one lesson in duration (maximum one hour) and a maximum of three class tests may be administered up to May 14th. After that date, teachers will begin the in-school process of determining the assessed grades for their students, which must be submitted to the SEC by June 3rd.

The key difference between the grades to be awarded to students in the Republic and the UK is that a “standardisation process” will take place here which will keep grades – and thus CAO points – requirements somewhat in line with previous years.

In the Ucas system, no such standardisation process is planned on the grades awarded by teachers. Therefore, it is likely universities may set much higher entry scores for all applicants in anticipation of somewhat inflated grades.