Leaving Cert: Removing school data risked penalising some students

Teachers may not ‘credibly engage’ with calculated grades again, official warned

Minister for Education Norma Foley has announced that a modified version of last year’s calculated grades will be used in this year’s Leaving Cert. File photograph: Bryan O’Brien

Minister for Education Norma Foley has announced that a modified version of last year’s calculated grades will be used in this year’s Leaving Cert. File photograph: Bryan O’Brien

 

The Government was warned some students risked being “thrown under the bus” due to its decision to remove school performance data from the calculated grades system used in last year’s Leaving Certificate.

The comment is contained in internal Department of Education records, seen by The Irish Times, which throw fresh light over a decision to omit “school profiling” from the calculated grades process.

The exclusion of the data – the track record of individual schools in the Leaving Cert over a three-year period – was removed from the standardisation process following uproar in the UK when thousands of students had results downgraded, especially those in disadvantaged schools.

In Ireland, however, many high-performing schools claimed their students were unfairly penalised by the decision after recording lower grades than expected when results were published last September.

In one document dated August 18th – just weeks before the results were released – a senior civil servant commented that “turning off” school historical data meant “better-performing disadvantaged schools [are] also thrown under the bus”.

Under a heading of “negative consequences”, the same official noted that changes meant some students would “outperform historical plausibility” and students whose teachers’ estimated grades were overestimated “stand to gain most”.

There is likely to be a reference to the fact that the decision to omit historical data led to significantly higher grades and fewer estimates being downgraded.

Credibility

In another comment, the official added that changes could “undermine the credibility of the entire process; you could never do this again as no one would credibly engage in the process again”.

The warnings are likely to raise fresh questions over the standardisation process for accredited grades and exams this year.

Department officials have confirmed this data will also be excluded from the 2021 version of calculated grades for 60,000 Leaving Cert students.

A department spokesman said it would have “regard to the pattern of Leaving Certificate results in 2020 and previously” and further details would be determined on the advice of the State Examinations Commission.

Records show an early analysis on the impact of omitting school historical data resulted in sharp differences in grades awarded to individual schools.

In the case of Mount Anville, a fee-paying school in Dublin, the number of students securing top grades in higher level maths fell by 70 per cent compared with its historical performance.