The Irish Times view on Leaving Cert changes: a belated move back to reality

Minister for Education Norma Foley has announced a plan to phase out grade inflation, beginning next year

The pandemic has had lots of knock-on effects, not least in education. But, whereas many other aspects of life have returned to normal, the education system is still dealing with the fallout, particularly when it comes to Leaving Cert grade inflation.

The introduction of teacher-predicted results in 2020 and 2021 led to grades soaring as teachers, inevitably, wanted the best for their students. In the intervening years, Minister for Education Norma Foley has directed that aggregate grades be kept at these inflated levels Leaving Cert results are currently, on average, 7 percentage points higher than pre-Covid averages.

Foley argued that these measures were taken out of fairness for students whose education was disrupted by Covid. However, it has caused unfairness for others. Inflated grades have made it more difficult for colleges to identify top students for high-points courses, leading to the use of random selection. This has been especially cruel for students who lost out on places, despite securing maximum points.

It has also affected cross-border mobility by making it much harder for students in North Ireland to access universities in the Republic, given that A-level results have long since returned to normal levels. In addition, it has created false expectation for some students who have ended up struggling in demanding college courses and dropped out.


While the UK moved to return to more normal results in recent years, Foley has belatedly announced a plan to phase out grade inflation, beginning next year, when the aim will be to have results between 2020 and 2021 levels, with further adjustments planned for later years depending on the 2025 experience.

In doing so, she will leave any fallout at the door of her successor. Her argument is that students doing the Leaving Cert this year did not undertake a normal Junior Cycle, and thus need to be supported.

Deflating grades is not a popular move. Some students next year may feel disadvantaged in the race for CAO points compared to applications with results from previous years, who benefited from inflated grades. However, it is necessary. Covid-19 lockdowns are long over and the system needs to return to some kind of normality.

Ireland needs to protect the credibility and integrity of its Leaving Cert grades. Universities need to be able to trust in the high value and rigorous assessment surrounding the exams. Hard-working students need to know that earning a top grade really counts – and carries weight with colleges and employers.

The Leaving Cert is far from perfect, but reform can continue from a realistic base. Exam grades are supposed to be a marker for achievement, but grade inflation misleads everyone.