Leaving Cert 2020

The unique experience of the Leaving Certificate class of 2020 culminated yesterday morning, 6th September, as they became the first group of students to have received Calculated Grades without having sat State Examinations.

The Calculated Grades system worked based on a teacher’s estimate of how a student would perform in the examination. After these grades were determined, this data was sent to the Department of Education before being standardised in a process which aimed “to assure the quality, fairness and accuracy of the results.” Notably, a school’s status as DEIS (i.e. disadvantaged) was not considered as part of this standardisation process, meaning students from disadvantaged backgrounds would not be negatively affected for this reason alone.

This process allowed for the alterations of the estimated grades, but in 79.2% of cases no change was deemed necessary, and in only 16.9% of cases were grades lowered.

The outcome of this system appeared largely positive for students. The core subjects of Irish, English and Mathematics each saw an increase in the proportion of H1s, O1s and F1s respectively when compared to the Class of 2019. This pattern was largely repeated across all subjects and levels, with rare exceptions for subjects such as Ordinary Level History, Geography and Chemistry.

Some subjects saw massive increases in the proportion of H1s awarded, including Latin which saw an increase of 23.2% increase and Dutch which saw a 38.7% increase, although the number of students who took these subjects at higher level were only 48 and 16 respectively.

This is only the first hurdle for many Leaving Certificate students however, with Round One CAO offers being made this Friday, September 11th, with the impact of this year’s results on the points required for entrance to Level 7 and Level 8 courses yet to be seen. However, with the Department of Further and Higher Education said to be examining the possibility of providing hundreds of college places in “high demand” courses nationwide, as was widely reported in the Irish media, fears of points inflation for courses may be misplaced. 

In a letter addressed to the Class of 2020, Minister for Education Norma Foley acknowledged the “difficult times” students had faced over the past six months, but commended them on the “patience, courage and resilience” they have shown at this time.

She also acknowledged that the Class of 2020 “will not be in a position to celebrate in the same way [they] might have liked”, but thanked the students for playing their part.

The laudable aim of this year’s Calculated Grades to provide a system of secondary level education which minimised disparities in results between students of different socioeconomic background or school of attendance should be the benchmark going forward. 

It is clear that prior to this year the school attended by a student was an important determinant of transition to higher level institutions – the system of calculated grades made direct efforts to reverse this trend. The return to a situation where graduates of Terence Mac Swiney Community College, Knocknaheeney can have zero students attending university while 78% of those who attend fee-paying schools such as Presentation Brothers College make this transition, as was the case in 2019, is not a fair or just system, likely perpetuating inequalities.

Whether or not this reversal is realised in actuality this Friday is unclear. However, it should be seen as a positive that efforts were made to ensure equality of outcome was given to students of equal ability. The continuation of this is essential for a more equitable and fair society going forward. 

Lessons need to be learned from the experiment of Leaving Certificate 2020. After all, every day’s a school day.