The Irish Times view on Leaving Cert errors: a bombshell for students
Key questions relating to the rigour of oversight of the calculated grades system, and whether the Government should have revealed these errors sooner must be addressed
The announcement that around 6,500 Leaving Certificate students may have their grades changed as a result of two errors in the calculated grades system has come as a bombshell. Photograph: Mark Stedman/RollingNews.ie
The announcement that around 6,500 Leaving Certificate students may have their grades changed as a result of two errors in the calculated grades system has come as a bombshell. It may have massive implications for some of those affected and will present an enormous challenge to the third-level education system as to how to come to terms with the fact that 10 per cent of students will have their results adjusted.
On the political front it amounts to another huge shock for a Government which after three months in office continues to be remarkably accident prone. While the Opposition has inevitably blamed it for the debacle, the two major technical errors in the system which have caused the problem have little to do with politics. However, with power comes responsibility and and accountability. Key questions relating to the rigour of oversight of the calculated grades system, and whether the Government should have revealed these errors sooner – it was aware of the issue last week – must be addressed. That’s the least that affected students, some of whom will now have to change their college and accommodation plans, should expect.
The irony is that education has been one of the bright spots in the Coalition’s performance until now. Getting children back to school in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic was a very important milestone and devising an alternative system for grading Leaving Cert pupils at short notice was another. That is why it is such a setback that flaws in the system have emerged at this stage.
Minister for Education Norma Foley avoided the mistake of adopting the kind of system that discriminated against pupils from less well off backgrounds which caused outrage in the UK. Forewarned was forearmed. Some pupils from more affluent areas may not have done as well as they might have expected but, in the overall scheme of things, the system appeared to be as fair as possible in difficult circumstances.
The latest development has thrown serious doubt over the entire process but it is up to everybody involved in education to try to overcome the difficulties rather than descending into recrimination. The Minister has made it clear that no student will be downgraded as a result of the mistakes and that is a help. A high degree of flexibility will be required from third-level colleges, which have already made huge adjustments to deal with the reality of the Covid-19 world. Where courses are full, all options will have to be considered to take more students.
These are extraordinary times and they demand extraordinary measures. The debacle around calculated grades proves there is no adequate substitute for the Leaving Cert. For all its failings and legitimate criticism of it, it is a fair system in which all concerned have confidence.