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Q&A: Why are CAO offers earlier this year?

The CAO timeline has changed quite drastically this year.

Image: Laura Hutton/RollngNews.ie

IT’S THAT TIME of year again, as thousands of students across the country nervously await their Leaving Certificate results and CAO offers.

However, this time something will be different – round one offers for third-level courses will be offered four days earlier than previous years. 

This means that offers will be issued to students just 48 hours after they receive their Leaving Certificate results. 

How did it work previously?

In previous years, students faced a wait of five days for offers to arrive after receiving their Leaving Certificate results. 

If students wanted to appeal their results, it would be early October before they’d find out whether they were successful – often weeks after college had started. 

Put simply, this created a somewhat narrow window of opportunity for students to make an appeal to the State Examinations Commission and end up in the course of their choice in time for the start of term.

Why the change?

This all came to a head in September 2018, when 18-year-old Rebecca Carter from Co Wexford brought a judicial review case to the High Court asking for her amended results to be considered by the State Examinations Commission. 

Carter’s results had been added up incorrectly, meaning that her points fell short of those necessary to earn her place in veterinary medicine at UCD. 

Carter argued that the current system was unfair – under the current timeframe for processing appeals she wouldn’t have been able to commence the course in the 2018/19 academic year. Instead, she would have had to accept a deferred offer for the following year through no fault of her own. 

Carter was successful and in the High Court, Mr Justice Richard Humphreys said that the Department for Education should review the process to ensure all appeals would be completed before the start of the academic year. 

In November 2018, Minister for Education Joe McHugh confirmed that students who appeal their Leaving Certificate results would be informed of the outcome a full three weeks earlier than the normal timeframe. 

In January, McHugh said: “The accelerated timeline is a significant step in improving the Leaving Certificate appeals and college entry process for the benefit of students.”

We have learnt from past experiences and I hope faster offers and appeals will help to ease one layer of anxiety around progressing to third level.

How is it changing?

There’s something of a two-pronged approach taking place between the CAO and the State Examinations Commission following last year’s High Court decision.

This year, CAO round one offers will be available from 2pm on 15 August. In 2018, offers were made available on 20 August. 

The idea is that issuing the offers just 48 hours after students receive their Leaving Cert results will provide them with more time to appeal their results and secure the college place they are eligible for if their marks are upgraded. 

Additionally, in what the State Examinations Commission has described as a “fundamental re-engineering” of the system, appeals will be released this year three weeks earlier than in 2018, with students who make appeals able to expect results during the week ending 20 September. 

Last year, appeal results weren’t released until 10 October. 

This means that students will be able to view their exam scripts in advance of deciding to submit an appeal and will see examiners marking appealed papers on a full-time basis as opposed to the previous practice of marking taking place on evenings and weekends. 

A Department of Education spokesperson also confirmed to TheJournal.ie that the Irish Universities Association and the Technological Higher Education Association had worked together to ensure that no first-year course begins before the second week of September. 

Students have already welcomed the change. “In the past students faced a nerve-wracking few days between calculating their points and finding out if they got their course. This led to unnecessary stress and anxiety about point fluctuations and course choices,” Irish Second-Level Students’ Union President Ciara Fanning said. 

Students should now be able to take up their course following an appeal in the same year – but it also means a tighter deadline for the State Examinations Commission. 

Will it work?

With Leaving Cert results out today and offers released later this week, the State Examinations Commission will be preparing for appeals from students in the coming days. 

While the changes have the support of the courts, the Department of Education and a full range of education bodies, only time will tell whether appeals can be processed and delivered in time. 

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