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Record Leaving Cert grades to tighten race for college places as number of H1s triple in some subjects

  • More than 61,000 students get their marks today
  • Another record set of Leaving Cert grades will drive up points for college entry
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Education Minister Norma Foley, National Parents Council Post Primary president Mai Fanning, and Irish Second Level Students’ Union president Emer Neville, at the launch of the Leaving Cert helpline at the Department of Education in Dublin. Photo: Arthur Carron

Education Minister Norma Foley, National Parents Council Post Primary president Mai Fanning, and Irish Second Level Students’ Union president Emer Neville, at the launch of the Leaving Cert helpline at the Department of Education in Dublin. Photo: Arthur Carron

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Another record set of Leaving Cert grades will drive up points for college entry when CAO offers are made next week.

More than 61,000 Leaving Cert candidates are today receiving results that show an average 2.6pc grade inflation on last year.

But that only tells part of the story, with much steeper increases in some subjects – especially at the higher level.

Almost a quarter of students taking higher level chemistry got H1 grades, double the average in the years 2017-2019. Biology H1s also jumped from 8.3pc to 17.4pc over the same period.

This year 15.1pc of students taking higher level maths got H1 grades compared with 8.5pc last year and 6pc on average in the previous three years. The percentage of history students getting H1 grades at higher level has tripled from 6pc in 2017-19 to 18.2pc this year.

In art, the percentage of students with a H1 today is 13.2pc, compared with only 2.5pc, on average, between 2017-19.

Big jumps in the proportion of top grades will translate directly into points for college entry and create razor-sharp competition for popular courses in next week’s CAO Round 1 offers.

Because of the Covid pandemic, the class of 2021 had the option of receiving accredited grades, based on teachers/school estimated marks, doing exams or both. Most sat papers in at least one subject.

Of the 61,125 students receiving results from 10am today, 57,952 were entered for the traditional Leaving Cert. Of those, 52,680 opted for a combination of accredited grades and at least one exam in June.

A further 3,173 students are receiving results for the alternative Leaving Cert Applied (LCA) programme.

Where students received an accredited grade and sat the exam in a subject, and there was a difference in the results, they were credited with the higher mark.

Similar to last year, today’s results reflect a generosity on the part of teachers, which was reined in during the national standardisation process set up to ensure fairness.

However, there was a limit put on the extent to which teacher/school marks were reduced.

Education Minister Norma Foley had told State Examinations Commission (SEC) the level of downward adjustment on teacher/school marks should be similar to last year at around 17pc.

Ultimately 77pc of teacher/school estimated marks remained the same and 6pc increased, which was broadly in line with last year’s patterns.

Even though 91pc of candidates took out an ‘insurance policy’ by sitting at least one exam – 58pc did five or more – teacher/school grades tended to deliver better rewards for students.

A total of 411,876 grades are being issued to candidates today, three-quarters of these on the basis of accredited grades.

While the pleasing results of 2021 will raise concerns about standards, the Commission argues this was an exceptional year that cannot compare with any other, and must be seen in its own context.

Never before have students had such choice and the SEC believes Ireland is the only country in the world to have offered it.

According to the Commission, there is not any one factor that contributed to the higher outcomes this year.

It said it was “the combined effect of a number of policy decisions, which prioritised fairness and equity for the class of 2021 over strict adherence to national standards over time”.

It set out the main factors that influenced the grades this year as: providing access to both accredited grades and exams, adjustments to the syllabus and the exams to take account of the disruption to education caused by Covid, an atypical exam cohort and the higher teacher/school estimated marks, which varied across subjects and level.

SEC chair Pat Burke said its priorities were to ensure fairness and equity for candidates.

The SEC has also produced figures to show how many students initially applied to sit each subject in the written exam and then turned up to do so in June.

For instance, of 42,030 who indicated they would take the maths exam, 33,559 sat it, while for English, 39,325 entered for the exam and 30,160 sat it.

Education Minister Norma Foley and Junior Minister Josepha Madigan sent their congratulations to students.

Ms Foley said the partners in education worked to ensure the class of 2021 “had real choice and experienced a system to enable their progression that is fair and equitable.”


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