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Leaving Cert: Class of 2023 to get more choice and ‘no cliff edge’ grade drop as pandemic problems continue

It will be the fourth consecutive year that Covid-19 has impacted State exams 

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Education Minister Norma Foley and Kerry Harkin, principal of Presentation Secondary School Milltown in Killarney, Co Kerry, congratulate pupils Cadgh Evans, Sean Flynn, Justyna Przyborska, Hannah Joy, Cian Spillane and Marcus Labery after they received their results yesterday. Photo: Domnick Walsh

Education Minister Norma Foley and Kerry Harkin, principal of Presentation Secondary School Milltown in Killarney, Co Kerry, congratulate pupils Cadgh Evans, Sean Flynn, Justyna Przyborska, Hannah Joy, Cian Spillane and Marcus Labery after they received their results yesterday. Photo: Domnick Walsh

Education Minister Norma Foley and Kerry Harkin, principal of Presentation Secondary School Milltown in Killarney, Co Kerry, congratulate pupils Cadgh Evans, Sean Flynn, Justyna Przyborska, Hannah Joy, Cian Spillane and Marcus Labery after they received their results yesterday. Photo: Domnick Walsh

The Leaving Cert class of 2023 can look forward to extra choice in their exams, but will have to wait to see what grade inflation may be built into the results.

It will be the fourth consecutive year that the disruption caused by the pandemic has affected State exams and their outcomes, and the long-term legacy is far from clear.

As the 2022 school-leavers celebrated another year of bumper grades, Education Minister Norma Foley promised concessions in the exams for incoming sixth years.

The additional flexibility and choice will not be as generous as that shown this year, but the Irish Second Level Students’ Unions (ISSU) has welcomed the minister’s move.

These issues need to be urgently addressed in the Leaving Cert reform process

Crucially, Ms Foley also told students that there will be “no cliff edge and no automatic return to a [pre-pandemic] grade profile.

“In terms of the grade profile going forward, there will have to be a body of work done there by the State Examinations Commission and all the necessary work will take place,” she said.

The higher education sector, which has expressed concern about the impact of pandemic-
related grade inflation on college entry, insists the matter must be urgently addressed.

Irish Universities’ Association (IUA) Lewis Purser, Director of Learning, Teaching and Academic Affairs, said “we’ve had three years of disruption with grade inflation and delayed Leaving Cert results and it’s essential that we get back to a level of normality.

“These issues need to be front loaded and urgently addressed in the Leaving Cert reform process to avoid the excessive extension of the additional problems that have arisen.”

Mr Purser said inflated grades were designed to fix one problem but had created another in the form of more and more places in third level being allocated by random selection.

“Furthermore, the Leaving Cert doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and the last three years have created significant difficulties for cohorts of students seeking to study in Ireland with exam results from other countries and for Irish students wishing to study abroad,” he said.

Universities are concerned that the best students, who don’t benefit from grade inflation because they are already at the upper limit of marks, face unfair competition, while weaker students who get a college place on the back of boosted grades may end up struggling.

A Department of Education spokesperson said maintaining the results, on the aggregate, at the same level as last year was “an important step”.

In relation to tackling grade inflation, the spokesperson said it was “a complex issue, particularly given the impact of Covid and will need careful consideration”.

I acknowledge that the Leaving Certificate and Junior Cycle exam class of 2023 have experienced disruption in their learning at an important stage

The spokesperson said the matter would remain under consideration until after the results for Leaving Cert 2022 were finalised, following the appeals process. Account would also be taken of issues around entry to higher education and other post-school progression.

Concessions are not only being made in the Leaving Cert exams in 2023, there will also be changes to Junior Cycle assessments.

Details of the changes, which are in line with what was announced in August 2021 for the 2022 exams – but subsequently expanded – will issue to schools next week.

As well as extra choice in the exams, in some cases, the adjustments will provide more time for tuition by, for example, reducing preparatory work for practical examinations.

Ms Foley said she was “keen to give as much clarity and certainty as possible to students this week as they begin the school term.

“I acknowledge that the Leaving Certificate and Junior Cycle exam class of 2023 have experienced disruption in their learning at an important stage, as a result of the pandemic.”


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