Gender bias and calculated grades

 

Sir, –Prof Pat O’Connor (“Leaving Cert calculated grades open to danger of gender bias”, Opinion & Analysis, July 1st) states that in the guidelines issued to teachers regarding this process “there is no reference to gender bias”. This is not entirely the case.

On May 29th, the Department of Education and Skills circulated a document supplementary to their initial Guide for Schools, itself issued May 21st. The supplement directed that, in line with equality legislation, a student’s gender must not be allowed to influence his or her teacher’s judgement.

Given our litigious age and the novelty of the calculated grades process, perhaps it’s fair to say that the arrival of such an eleventh-hour supplement was somewhat predictable. – Yours, etc,

Dr CONOR FARNAN,

Kilmainham,

Dublin 8.

Sir, – Prof Pat O’Connor makes the point that gender bias is likely to arise in the case of the Leaving Certificate calculated grades system because of the absence of anonymous marking. While there are a number of issues with the calculated grades system, I don’t think this is one of greatest concern. I’m certain teachers were steadfast in their professionalism and judgment as they estimated marks for their students and that they took great care in being alert to any form of bias. In addition, subject teachers then worked together to align the marks for the subject and principals provided oversight of the alignment process, further mitigating the risk of bias.

Furthermore, I would presume that gender distribution will be looked at by the Department of Education and Skills as it completes the national standardisation process for the calculated grades.

The calculated grades system is far from perfect but it is what we have, and it is incumbent on all parties to make it work as fairly and effectively as possible so that our students can move on to the next stage of their lives.

What is quite alarming, however, is the picture that emerges from the evidence supplied by Prof O’Connor which highlights the unfavourable treatment of females in education and academia. It is clear that this is an area that needs to be addressed. In the post-primary system, for example, perhaps gender differences in subject choice should be of greater concern than gender differences in exams, for example.

In 2017, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women published its observations on Ireland’s combined sixth and seventh periodic reports.

These observations were not favourable in terms of the State’s efforts to eliminate discrimination against women. Three years later, it is time for a progress report.

Similarly, one can ask what have been the improvements brought about by the National Strategy for Women and Girls 2017-2020 in creating a better society for all? And what’s next?

Female representation in the newly formed Cabinet and indeed in Dáil Éireann also urgently needs to be addressed. I am privileged to work in a school which has among its distinguished alumni two former female ministers for education, Gemma Hussey and Mary O’Rourke. We’re now hoping for the first female taoiseach. Watch this space! – Yours, etc,

JOHN McHUGH,

Deputy Principal,

Loreto Secondary School,

Bray,

Co Wicklow.

Sir, – Girls outperform boys generally in the Leaving Cert. Yet there is no evidence to suggest that boys are less intelligent than girls. The Leaving Cert rewards particular types of learners, particularly those who are strong at regurgitating material, and where performance is enhanced by investing much time in practising previous exam questions. To many bright, highly able students, this is anathema and they react against the conformity it engenders. Creative, innovative, critical thinkers are not rewarded unless they play the system. – Yours, etc,

JOSEPH MACKEY,

West Glasson,

Athlone,

Co Westmeath.