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Top marks: Leaving Cert grades see massive 4.4pc surge but fears remain over numbers applying for college


'Be proud of your results today.' (stock photo)

'Be proud of your results today.' (stock photo)

'Be proud of your results today.' (stock photo)

The Leaving Cert class of 2020 is celebrating the best results day ever, with average grade inflation of 4.4pc after teachers assessed their own pupils when the exams were cancelled because of Covid-19.

The increase in grade values would have been greater had the teachers’ generosity not been curbed by the process set up to keep the national results picture broadly comparable with previous years.

However, this national standardisation process had only limited impact.

More than 60,000 students are receiving results today.

At higher level, every single subject clocked up more H1 grades than last year or the year before. H1 represents marks ranging from 90-100pc.

Overall, 8.9pc of grades in higher-level subjects were H1s, compared with an average 5.6pc over the past three years. It would have been 13.4pc had many teachers’ marks not been reduced.

The bumper set of grades will drive up CAO points but college applicants from this year’s Leaving Cert class have a competitive edge.

The big concern is how that will affect CAO applicants from the Leaving Cert class of 2019 and previous years who are competing with them for college offers.

Efforts are intensifying to create more college places so as many students as possible get one of their top choices.

Last week, Further and Higher Education Minister Simon Harris announced an additional 1,250 places. But there are fears this will not be enough.

Education Minister Norma Foley said the final set of results was “the fairest possible solution given the extraordinary circumstances in which we find ourselves as we journey together through the Covid-19 pandemic”.

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Sending her congratulations to students, Ms Foley said it was "a very different day from what we had anticipated for you, and from what you had planned and dreamed for yourselves.

"I do appreciate what an especially difficult time you have had over the past six months, and I want to commend you for the patience, courage and resilience you have shown in that time."

She said the creation of the calculated grades system - which replaced the summer Leaving Cert exams - came about to ensure there would be a mechanism to enable the class of 2020 to progress to work or further and higher education on completion of their second level school experience.

A calculated grade is derived from combination of information provided by the school about a student's expected performance in an exam and national data in relation to the performance of students in exams over a period of time.


One measure used was a comparison with the Junior Cert results of the 2020 Leaving Cert candidates.

Plans to use data on schools' historical performance in the Leaving Cert was abandoned because of fears it would be unfair to students in schools in disadvantaged communities.

The grade inflation seen in the 2020 results was a particular feature at higher level, with teachers more likely to mark up "honours" students. The trend was much more modest at ordinary level.

In some higher level subjects, the increases were spectacular. In Accounting, H1s were up from 6.6pc last year to 17.4pc this year, Business H1s were up from 4 pc to 8.5pc and Economics H1s rose from 4..2pc to 10.4pc.

But the big jumps were not just in the business areas - they were right across the board in the languages and STEM subjects.

Even Religious Education saw a sharp rise from 3.1pc getting H1s last year to 8.8pc of candidates getting the same grade this year.

Applied Maths went up from 15.3pc over the past three years to 29.6pc this year.

Maths saw H1s increase from 5.8pc over the past three years to 8.4pc this year.

The sciences also saw jumps in all subjects. For instance in Biology 8.1pc of all higher level grades were H1s over the past three years but this has risen to 10.8pc this year while Chemistry rose from 12.1pc to 17.1pc and Physics rose from 10.8pc to 15.6pc.

Native speakers of foreign languages did exceptionally well - four out of five of the 367 taking Russian secured H1s compared with three out of five last year.

Of the 455 taking Polish 36.3pc secured H1s compared with only 8.3pc of the 780 who took it last year.

Small numbers took Dutch, only 16 of whom, 56.3pc, were given a H1 compared with 17.6pc of the 17 students last year.

However, several hundred native speakers of foreign languages have not been awarded any calculated grades as officials could not get independent and authoritative predictions of how these students would do.

Almost 89pc of marks awarded by schools to higher level students stayed the same or fluctuated up or down by no more than five marks; the comparable figure for ordinary level was 95pc. A change in marks does not necessarily mean a grade change.

Public health restrictions mean that schools may not be in a position to welcome the previous year's Leaving Cert class today.

But the Joint Managerial Body (JMB) representing management in about half of second-level schools, said staff would be available to students in schools to assist them in looking at and considering the options that might be available to them.

"We would urge that those students uncertain or unsure as to how to proceed would seek advice and take what time they need in deciding on their next steps," said JMB general secretary John Curtis.


The focus now switches to CAO Round 1 offers on Friday and how that will play out in the face of the bumper 2020 grades. A widespread rise in points can be expected.

The Irish Universities Association said while the grade inflation was "understandable given the exceptional circumstances arising from Covid-19 disruption, the Irish universities are aware of the challenges it may pose for applicants who are presenting Leaving Cert results from a previous year.

"We understand the position these applicants now find themselves in, and are actively working with Government to endeavour to find a whole of system response to this."

The Technological Higher Education Association (THEA), representing institutes of technology, said the principle of intergenerational equity with previous Leaving Certificate students was particularly important to the institutes, as about 50pc of first year students entered with either a previous year's Leaving Cert result or a Further Education qualification.

"We will be working closely with the entire higher education system in order to ensure fairness and equity in the allocation of this year's higher education places across all institutions," the association stated.

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