Posted in General Legal Tips on Tuesday 15 September 2020

Whilst many students who logged on to receive their Leaving Certificate results last week would have been left devastated to find that they did not receive the points that they had expected in the Leaving Certificate, that devastation deepened this week when many students discovered that their teachers estimated percentage marks would have resulted in them achieving higher points and if those marks had stood without interference from the calculated grades process, it would have put them in the running for the college course of their choice.

Instead, a number of students woke yesterday morning to find that the school issued marks had been adjusted significantly under the Department of Education’s algorithmic model with a reported 17% of grades being adjusted downwards.

Many students and parents are understandably frustrated and angry as they feel grades were disproportionately interfered with and lowered under the calculated grades process.

At Cantillons Solicitors, we have been inundated with calls from parents and students whose grades have been revised downwards significantly by the Department of Education following the application of its calculated grades process, with some students seeing a decrease in as much as 50 points. Whilst there is an appeal process available, the appeal is limited to reviewing how data has been processed within the Department of Education and specifically looks at whether any administrative errors took place. However, this is not an appeal of the result achieved in the traditional sense and provides little comfort to students who feel that they have been manifestly wronged by the Department in its approach and use of the calculated grades process.

There are potential legal remedies open to students who feel that the calculated grades process has disproportionately interfered with their results. This will not come as a surprise to the Government given that it was previously flagged by the Attorney General that the calculated grade process had “legal vulnerabilities”.

Whilst judicial review may be an option for some, teacher’s estimated grades will be an important factor in determining if there was unfair treatment of some students as part of the calculated grades process.

It is difficult to reconcile a situation whereby the Government was at pains to point out at the beginning of this process that as part of the calculated grades process, teachers were asked to use their “professional judgment” and we were repeatedly told that professional judgment is key. Yet, professional judgment was interfered with and altered on the basis of the application of complex algorithms of which very few have detailed information about.

A further issue has arisen in respect of students who have come to the 2020 CAO application process having received results from previous sittings of the Leaving Certificate.

It is estimated that approximately 20,000 applicants who applied for courses in the 2020 system would have received results in previous years and have been put at a significant disadvantage in the race for college places as a result of grade inflation.

It appears that the average grade inflation this year is in the region of 4.4%. Again, this will not have come as a surprise to the Government who had previously flagged that on an overall basis, what had emerged from the application of the finalised standardised model is that the results in 2020 would be stronger than in previous years.

However, this leaves students who would have completed the Leaving Certificate in 2019, and applied for a college place this year with those results, at a serious disadvantage in circumstances where the inflation this year would have had the effect of devaluing Leaving Certificate results achieved in previous years.

Almost 20,000 students fear that they have been forgotten about by the Government as no provision has been made for the disadvantage they have suffered. Commentators predicted these issues coming down the tracks and felt that there were solutions there to be offered if the Department had the will to do so. Solutions offered included;

  • Ring fencing a number of places for students who completed the leaving certificate in previous years.
  • Adjusting prior leaving certificate student’s grades to take into account grade inflation in 2020.
  • To apply the CAO admission points from the year 2019 for students who came to the 2020 process with results achieved in 2019 in an effort to counter any inflation in points which arose this year.

However, the Government failed to pay heed to these warnings and as a result there have been students who came to this year’s CAO process with results from previous years who have lost out on college places.  Many feel that had there been no pandemic, they would have secured a college place this year with the points obtained from previous years, based on the average fluctuation of points over the past number of years.

It has undoubtedly been a devastating few days for a number of students and their families. There are legal remedies available in certain circumstances and it is important to seek legal advice on the matter as expeditiously as possible. For those seeking Judicial Review of the matter, an application must be made within three months from the date when grounds for the application first arose and therefore, time is of the essence.

Contact us at Cantillons Solicitors at +353 (0)21 -4275673 or [email protected] if you would like more information.


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