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Counsel for the State denied the claims against Minister Norma Foley and claims the system was "unlawful".
Counsel for the State denied the claims against Minister Norma Foley and claims the system was "unlawful".
Image: Maxwells Dublin

High Court test case against Leaving Cert calculated grades hears minister 'jettisoned' her commitments

The hearing before Mr Justice Charles Meenan is expected to last for two weeks.
Dec 8th 2020, 6:48 PM 22,266 0

THE MINISTER FOR Education breached commitments to keep the 2020 Leaving Certificate fair and accurate and comparable to other years results by not including historical school data in the calculated grade process, the High Court has heard.

The claim was made by lawyers during the first day of the hearing of the lead challenge brought by a Leaving Cert student against the calculated grades process and awarding of college places for 2020.

Today, Feichín McDonagh SC for Freddie Sherry, said the Minister had “jettisoned” her commitment to keep the process of estimating grades as fair by opting not to include historical data about school’s past performances as part of the process used to estimate grades.

The Minister’s decision, counsel added, had also resulted in inflated grades, and had breached a second commitment to making the 2020 results comparable to those in past and future years, counsel said.

Counsel said that the process adopted by the Minister when the decision not to run the Leaving Certificate examinations in 2020 was not panicked nor rushed.

Considerable expert opinion was obtained as to the best way to fairly and accurately assess calculated grades.

Counsel said that following what was a “top-down intervention” by the Minister it was decided not to include historical past data from previous years’ performances by schools when it came to assessing grades.

There was no requirement to exclude that data as part of the grade assessment process, counsel said.

Prior to the intervention, counsel said the system had already factored in how to grade good students capable of getting the top grades who were in a school who students had not performed well in previous years examinations.

In addition, the system being used to calculate grades in Ireland was different to those used in the UK, where there had been widescale criticism after thousands of results were marked down to reduce grade inflation.

Counsel said that there was a certain “opacity” regarding the reasons why the Minister decided, on August 21st last, to intervene in relation to the use historical school data when it came to assessing grades.

This would be something that would be addressed during the cross examination of witnesses for the Minister, counsel said.

In his opening, counsel compared the situation created by the Minister as a “scrambled egg of complex proportions” that all the expert data showed should be “scrambled differently before the Minister took out her whisk.”

Sherry, who sat his Leaving at Dublin’s Belvedere College. is the test case of approximately 50 challenges by other Leaving Cert students against the calculated grades process.

In his action Sherry, of Newtown, Celbridge, Co Kildare, claims a direction by the Minister last August to remove school historical records in the calculated grades process resulted in him being unfairly downgraded by 55 points in his Leaving Cert.

McDonagh SC, with Micheál P. O’Higgins SC and Brendan Hennessy BL, instructed by Ferrys Solicitors, claim their client was hugely disappointed when his teachers’ estimated CAO points total of 542 for him was reduced to 487 under the process.

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His first course choice was pharmacy in TCD, which he missed out on. He claims the Minister’s direction interfered in the calculated grades process overseen by an independent steering committee was “unlawful”.

The Minister and State, represented by Eileen Barrington SC and Brian Kennedy SC deny the claims and maintain there is no reason to believe Sherry would be in an improved position if historical school data was included.

It is also denied that the Minister breached any commitments regarding the fairness and the comparability regarding the 2020 grades.

They say students in Belvedere College received, on average, higher scores in 2020 compared to the 2017-19 period and there is no basis for any assertion Mr Sherry would have been treated more favourably in another category of school.

Because the calculated grades process has been completed and CAO offers issued, any attempt to reinstate school historical data would be inappropriate or disproportionate as it would cast doubt on the results of significant numbers of students and their entitlement to college places, they argue.

The hearing before Mr Justice Charles Meenan continues, and is expected to last for two weeks.

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Aodhan O Faolain

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