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Leaving Cert

High Court dismisses challenge to calculated grades system taken by Belvedere College student

The action is a test case from about 50 other challenges by other Leaving Cert students.

THE HIGH COURT has dismissed a challenge to last year’s Leaving Cert calculate grades system, stating that the Minister for Education’s decision to remove schools’ past performance as part of the system was taken “in the public interest”. 

The action was taken by Belvedere College student Freddy Sherry and is a test case from about 50 other challenges by other Leaving Cert students against the calculated grades process.

In his action Sherry, of Newtown, Celbridge, Co Kildare, claimed that a direction by the minister last August to remove school historical data (SHD) in the calculated grades process resulted in him being unfairly downgraded by 55 points in his Leaving Cert. 

Sherry argued that as a result of this he did not have the points necessary for his third level course of choice and that the grade inflation as a result of the process also put the points “out of his reach”. 

He argued that the estimated marks submitted by his teachers and school were a fair and accurate prediction of the grades he would have achieved had he sat the Leaving Certificate 2020 in the usual way

In his ruling today, Mr. Justice Charles Meenan noted that the decision to remove SHD “was not arbitrary, unfair, unreasonable, irrational and unlawful and in breach of the applicant’s legitimate expectations”. 

The judge said that the decision by the minister was “an exercise of executive power” under the Constitution and was one of a number of decisions taken to “maintain public acceptance of the calculated grades system”. 

The ruling noted that there had been controversy in the UK last year over the use of schools’ past performances in grade estimation and that this had been labelled as school profiling” and a “post code lottery”. 

Meenan said there were “fundamental differences” between the UK system and Ireland’s but that this was “completely lost in the ensuing storm”.

Notwithstanding this, the judge said he was satisfied that the minister’s decision to remove SHD was “taken in the public interest”. 

Sherry’s action was supported in an affidavit of Tom Doyle, Deputy Principal of Belvedere College, who stated:

I say that Belvedere College students have a proven history of high performance across Leaving Certificate subjects and that inevitably appropriate clusters of students with high grades have occurred in the applicant’s classes. The college could easily have 40 explained these clusters of students with high grades had we been given an opportunity to do so relying on our historical data.

Estimated grades

As part of the 2020 calculated grades system, teachers were required to grade their students and those results were then adjusted by the department to ensure that the overall results were in line with previous years. 

In his judgement, Meenan says that the marks awarded by Belvedere College were “significantly inflated being considerably ahead of what had been achieved by the school in past years”.

The judge said it was therefore “not at all surprising” that Sherry’s marks were downgraded, noting that the same took place in many other schools. 

“It is not at all surprising that the applicant was downgraded from these inflated estimates. Inflated school estimates were not unique to Belvedere College and were common amongst other schools particularly at the higher levels,” the judgement stated. 

The judge also said this “should not be taken as criticism of the teachers or school involved”.

“Teachers were placed in a very difficult and invidious position in having to give estimated marks to their students, whom they would have known and worked with for many years, in one of the most important examinations of their lives,” the judge said. 

On the matter of costs, Justice Meenan said that the court would have to make a judgement and asked for written submissions. 

He noted that this was the “lead case” that would determine the central issue on which numerous other actions are being taken. 

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