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State Exams

Here's the score: What we know about marks, grades and appeals in the Leaving Cert 'Plan C'

There has been a lot of concerns about bright students in schools with poor Leaving Cert track records suffering under these rules.

THE ROLE OF teachers is going to be crucial in implementing the Leaving Cert ‘Plan C’.

Education Minister Joe McHugh, who initially had qualms about teachers assessing Leaving Cert students, said that they would be “central” to the system.

But concerns have been raised about influences from students and parents possibly skewing the results in favour of certain students, and the Department of Education’s role in standardising percentage marks disadvantaging others.

So here’s some information about how students are assessed, and how the appeals process works.

What is the marking system like at the moment?

It’s very very complicated – you can read the Department of Education’s guide on this here.

Part 1: Teachers and the school

The students will be marked by their teachers in each subject, based on their classwork from the past two years: this might include some, but not all of Christmas exams, summer exams, Mock exams, orals, projects, and practicals.

Teachers will also take into consideration the progress made by students, as well as “any other relevant information related to student performance”.

Work that has been done on or after Friday 13 March, the day after Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced schools would close, can be considered, but teachers have been warned “to exercise due caution where that work suggests a change in performance“.

In many cases, this is likely to reflect the circumstances and context in which the work is done rather than what might have happened if everything had been normal.

The Department of Education has stressed that teachers have a code of practice to adhere to, which is “underpinned by the values of Integrity, Trust, Care and Respect”.

Teachers will give a percentage mark to their students per subject. Teachers will also have to rank their class of students in order – so if three students get 70%, the teacher must rank them in order of who is most likely to have received the 70%.

Alignment and the principal

After this, teachers of the same subject will “finalise” the estimated scores and the rank the order of their students in the class.

If there is only one teacher of a subject in the school, the teacher will instead confer with the deputy principal of the school.

This process is to ensure that the “estimated mark awarded by a teacher and the class rank order correspond exactly with each other”.

The principal’s role is an important governance and oversight during this process. They will:

  • Review the data sets submitted to them by the subject alignment groups
  • Assure themselves of the fairness of the processes to that point
  • Where it appears that an anomaly or error has arisen, return a data set for further review to the subject alignment group.

In the final scenario there, the principal does not have a role in altering a student’s estimated mark or rank; his/her role is to return the queried marks/rankings to the subject alignment group for further review.

Part 2: Department of Education and standardisation

This final score is given to the Department of Education, which will view these scores by comparing them to Leaving Cert averages in previous years.

The teachers’ estimated percentages from each school will be compared against previous years’ Leaving Cert results, and against this year’s Junior Cert results. Here are the sets of data this year’s Leaving Cert exams will be compared against:

  • National level for both Leaving Certificate and Junior Certificate examinations for 2019 and previous years;
  • School level for both Leaving Certificate and Junior Certificate examinations for 2019 and previous years;
  • Candidate level for both Leaving Certificate and Junior Certificate examinations for 2019 and previous years;
  • Candidate level for the Junior Certificate results of the 2020 Leaving Certificate cohort of candidates.

This ‘algorithm’, or standardisation, will result in a final ‘calculated grade’ for students.

It’s important to note that this isn’t about matching previous Leaving Cert grades exactly to this year’s Leaving Cert students, but instead to ensure that the allocated marks given by teachers to students is in line with the general Leaving Cert trend. 

McHugh has said that he hopes students will be given their calculated grades around the same time of year when the normal Leaving Cert results are released – which is in August.


The appeals opportunities for the calculated grade part of this process is limited.

This is because teachers won’t be asked to reassess the mark that they gave the students, as it represents a huge pressure of the State asking a teacher to reassess the work of a student that they have taught. 

“What you can’t reopen is the actual estimated score that the teacher gave,” Chief Inspector at the Department of Education Harold Hislop explained.

When you think about it, if that score was allowed to be reopened, there would be an incredible pressure on the teacher to increase that score.

What is involved in the appeal, is a three-stage process that mostly checks the data:

  • A series of checks that data was correctly entered at school level and correctly transferred to the Education Department
  • A review that the data was correctly received and processed by the Education Department
  • If a candidate remains dissatisfied after notification of outcome of the above two stages, verification of the Education Department processes by independent appeal scrutineers.

An “independent international expert” unconnected with the calculated-grade system will then provide an overall validation of the model, including the operation of the appeals system.

If a student is still unhappy with their grade, they can sit a written exam when they take place (we don’t know when exactly, but former minister Denis Naughten seems to believe it will be in November).

If they choose to sit a written exam, they will delay their entry into third-level institutions or placements until the 2021/2022 academic year.

If a student sat such an examination and gets a higher grade that the calculated grade, and this meant they would have been entitled to a higher CAO course, they will be facilitated in taking that place.

If they get a grade in the written exam that is lower than their calculated grade, the students can choose the calculated grade. They can also choose a mix of subjects being assessed in the calculated grade method, or the written Leaving Cert exam method. 

For further information, see the Department of Education’s site here.

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