Leaving Certificate grades and fairness

 

Sir, – Norma Foley, the Minister for Education, has responded to criticism of this year’s Leaving Certificate results by saying that the estimated grades process used by her department was “blind” to school type. I’m sure she realises that this is exactly the point of the criticism.

It is a fact that, under the usual scheme of anonymous marking of scripts, certain schools consistently achieve higher grades than the national average. This may be be accounted for by some form of admissions screening, by superior teaching, by greater resources, by greater diligence on the part of students or by other factors.

One can have a serious debate about the fairness of this outcome and what should be done to redress the balance. But that does not change the underlying reality that certain schools tend to have consistently superior results.

It was, therefore, to be expected that teachers in such schools might award a greater proportion of higher grades to their students. But the blind system defended by the Minister assumes that these teachers have been over-generous to their students and downgrades them excessively. This is illustrated perfectly by the experience of a school which specialises in the teaching of German. Based on past performance and their assessment of this year’s class, its teachers expected half of its students to secure a H1 grade in German. Instead 14 per cent of its students were awarded this grade against the national average of 9 per cent.

I know of a school with a strong track record in mathematics which had a similar experience. Last Monday, when the national rate of H1 grades in maths went up 31 per cent, this school’s H1 grades were down 35 per cent on its average performance over the past five years.

Ms Foley’s system is indeed blind, but it is hardly fair. The elimination of school performance from the estimated grades process was done for the best of reasons – so as not to disadvantage an outstanding student in this year’s class who was attending a school which has traditionally underperformed.

But this has been achieved at a significant cost to students attending schools which have traditionally outperformed. – Yours, etc,

PAT O’BRIEN,

Rathmines,

Dublin 6.