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Minister Simon Harris speaking to reporters today in Drogheda. The Journal
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Leaving Cert grade inflation needs to be unwound in coming years, Minister says

Grades were artificially bumped up this year and last to maintain fairness between students who completed their exams in different years.

MINISTER FOR FURTHER and Higher Education Simon Harris has said that Leaving Certificate grade inflation will need to be unwound over the next number of years but he admitted that the situation is “tricky”.

Leaving certificate grades have been higher than historical levels for the last number of years as a result of the disruption caused by the Covid pandemic.

The issue began in 2020 when the Leaving Certificate written examination papers were called off as a result of the pandemic.

Students that year instead received ‘calculated grades’ which resulted in overall grade inflation for the year of 4.4%.

In 2021 the Leaving Certificate exams went ahead but students could also be assessed by accredited grades or a mix of the two.

Because students could choose between whichever grade was higher, inflation continued to rise. 

As a result, Education Minister Norma Foley committed to artificially bumping up grades in 2022 and again this year in order to maintain fairness between students who completed their exams in different years but were applying for the same university courses.

This year, grades on average are 7% higher than they were in 2019. 

Speaking to reporters in Drogheda today, Simon Harris said he supports the decision Minister Foley took but said that we now need to have a “serious conversation” about how it can begin to be “unwound” over a number of years.

Harris added: “Now, it’s somewhat started this year, because for example, allowances and choices on the Leaving Cert this year were changed in relation to how they were last year.”

Speaking more widely, the Minister said a lot of work is being done to reform the Leaving Certificate in general.

“I’m also doing a lot of work in terms of trying to move beyond the national obsession with the points race and create different pathways into university,” Harris said. 

He gave the example that this year will be the first time ever that over 500 people will do a degree and start in further education that won’t be in any way linked to Leaving Certificate points. 

“We need to build on that alternative pathway,” he added. 

Harris was in Drogheda today to officially open a €4m new craft training hub operated by the Louth Meath Education and Training Board.

Located in Drogheda College of the Future, the hub will provide training for 300 apprentices each year in key areas like electrical trades.

Harris told attendees at the opening event that there is “an emergency underway” in Ireland in relation to housing.

He said this is why more trade apprenticeships are needed across the country.

Capping the number of TDs

On Wednesday, the Electoral Commission will publish its long awaited boundary commission review of Dáil and European election constituency boundaries.

The review will determine how many TDs are in the next Dáil as well as what constituencies they will be elected from.

A number of TDs risk losing their seats depending on what way new constituency lines are drawn. Among them is Simon Harris whose Wicklow constituency is likely to see a shake-up. 

Asked about it today, Harris said “there is no point speculating” and that you play “the hand you are dealt”.

Harris also signalled his support for capping the number of TDs in the country in the future. 

He said it would be a question for the next Dáil but that it is important that we have a discussion about what the optimal number of TDs is. 

‘Women in the home’ referendum

Elsewhere, Harris also said he expects cabinet to receive an update on the proposed ‘women in the home’ referendum when the Dáil returns in September. 

The feasibility of the referendum taking place as planned in November has been questioned due to the fact the Government has not yet published the proposed new wording for the relevant section of the Constitution.

“I truthfully am unsure of exactly where the thinking of Government is at the moment because obviously government will be reconvening shortly after the summer recess where I’m sure we’ll get an update in relation to this,” Harris said.

He added that he is “conscious of the importance of this referendum”. 

“I think it would be good if this could take place in November. But it’s also important that it takes place when it’s ready to take place, in other words, that all of the work that is necessary to be done is done,” Harris said.

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