Universities seek talks to avoid UK-style grades debacle

Registrars want assurance that results issued will be 'definitive'

(stock photo)

Katherine Donnelly and Senan Molony

Universities have sought urgent talks with the Department of Education to ensure the Leaving Cert results and CAO offer season do not descend into chaos.

As the results date of September 7 looms, the Irish Universities Association (IUA) wants a meeting with senior department officials to secure assurances that the calculated grades plan will hold up.

The move by the university registrars comes on the heels of concerns expressed by one member of that group, Professor Pól Ó Dochartaigh of NUI Galway, who warned blanket grade inflation of Leaving Cert results must be avoided.

Registrars are responsible for college admissions and have two key concerns on which they are seeking guarantees from the department, arising from the disruption to Leaving Cert arrangements.

The June exams were replaced with a system whereby teachers provided estimated marks and class rankings for pupils in each subject, which are now going through a series of checks and balances in a national standardisation process to yield final grades.

Similar processes in the UK sparked a furore when it emerged marks awarded by teachers - who tended to be more generous than the average state examiner - to disadvantaged students were disproportionately marked down.

One of the worries of the IUA is timeline, with colleges already concerned that the start of the academic year has been pushed back to accommodate a later than usual release of the Leaving Cert results.

After the debacle in the UK, where teachers' grades were restored following the outcry, the registrars want certainty the results issued on September 7 will be the "final and definitive" set of grades.

CAO Round 1 offers will follow on September 11, and most colleges will start the term on September 28.

With an already compressed timetable between the results and campus reopenings, registrars see no room for further delays, including political U-turns, in the face of any disquiet.

They also want an assurance the results will be "statistically comparable" with previous years or, as expressed more bluntly by Prof Ó Dochartaigh, that there is no UK-style blanket grade inflation.

Any significant upward variation in national performance would put at a disadvantage CAO applicants who are relying on Leaving Cert grades from previous years as a basis for college entry.

CAO data shows that while there are about 47,000 applicants relying on Leaving Cert results from 2020, another 20,000 are using results dating back up to 35 years.

It will be September 14 before students can compare the calculated grade with the estimated mark and class ranking provided by their school. Anyone who is initially disappointed may be comforted with a hoped-for college offer on September 11.

In the UK, A-level students receive conditional college offers before their results arrive.

Education Minister Norma Foley has refused to publish the model being used in Ireland to calculate the grades.