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Harris estimates 1,000 additional college places may be required to deal with calculated grade errors

When asked by in the Dáil earlier, Taoiseach Micheál Martin admitted that there had been two errors made in the Leaving Cert standardisation process.

Updated Sep 30th 2020, 8:10 PM

HIGHER EDUCATION MINISTER Simon Harris estimates that 1,000 additional college places maybe required to deal with the Leaving Cert calculated grade errors.

Students, teachers and opposition politicians have been reacting to the news that Calculated Grades issued to around 6,500 students this month have been affected by two errors in the standardisation process. 

Questions have been raised about what this means for third-level college courses.

Those who were downgraded will receive the Calculated Grade they should have received on 7 September Education Minister Norma Foley said today. 

Some students received higher grades than they should have because of this, but they will retain their original Calculated Grade mark. 

It’s understood that some 800-900 students missed out on third-level places as a result of these errors.

Harris told his parliamentary party meeting this evening that up to 1,000 extra places could be needed. 

He confirmed to members that students impacted by grade error would be viewed as a ‘successful appeal’, acknowledging that additional places will need to be resourced.

While he said the full extent to the numbers needed are not clear, the CAO data should be known by next week.

The minister said that those who who were marked down “will have their proper grade restored” and they will be liaising with higher education institutions to ensure that students who should have been offer a higher CAO offer will receive it.

You can read more about what exactly was said here.

In response to a question by Labour leader Alan Kelly in the Dáil today, Taoiseach Micheál Martin confirmed that there had been two errors found last week in the standardisation process.

At a press briefing at 4pm, Education Minister Norma Foley said that after checking 50,000 lines of code, two errors were found, resulting in 7,200 grades being affected out of 400,000:

  • The first error was that the standardisation was meant to take in the three core Junior Cert subjects: English, Irish and Maths, and the students’ two highest subjects – but instead the algorithm took into account their two lowest subjects.
  • The second error was that the algorithm was to discount the subject Civic, Social and Political Education (CSPE), and instead included it.

Calculated Grades were issued to Leaving Cert students just weeks ago, and college placements have already been offered to thousands of students based on grades – some of which the government has accepted may have been subject to a standardisation error.

The Third Round of third-level institution offers from the CAO is due to be issued tomorrow. 

Reaction

Students groups have called for additional third-level places be made available to deal with the fallout from the errors. 

The Irish Second-Level Students’ Union (ISSU) expressed its disappointment at the “undue stress” this issue will cause but has nonetheless welcomed the the problems were identified. 

“Our focus is on supporting the students and engaging in communications with the Department to mitigate the drastic impacts these errors will have – we want to see this resolved,” the group said. 

The ISSU feels very strongly that students who have been affected by these errors, which may result in a change in their grades and subsequently the points received, should be given the opportunity to enter any new course offer in this academic year.

“Additional places should be allocated where necessary to allow for this. This is vital to assure the Leaving Certificate students of 2021 that they will not be disadvantaged further by reducing places available in courses in September 2021.

Labour spokesperson Aodhán Ó Riordán said there was “huge concern for students”, Sinn Féin spokesperson Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire said it was an “extraordinary” revelation and raised “huge questions”, and Richard Boyd Barrett said that it was an “inexplicable cock-up”.

Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire said that students who were adversely impacted by this error in code should receive the appropriate college place, but that other students who received a higher grade than they should have shouldn’t lose their college place.

Sinn Féin’s Rose Conway-Walsh TD also said that extra college places needs to be made available

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“The Taoiseach says extra courses will be offered, but we have no details. I want to know exactly what those places are and what subjects they are in. How much has been allocated to the universities and colleges for these extra places?”

It is understood that Higher Education Minister Simon Harris will have to sign off on additional college spaces, however, to what extent will have to be determined following the full review of the situation.

It is believed that due to fall in international students, there could be some potential for additional places. There remains, however, some concerns about problems around courses where there are practical elements. 

Reaction

One student told RTÉ’s Liveline that she had been downgraded by 40 points, and received her 6th college choice.

The President of the ASTI Anne Piggott said she was “quite surprise and wondering what the story is”. Piggott said that it was unusual that they have found an error at this stage of the process: “I’m very surprised.”

Clive Byrne, Director of the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals said that the deadline for applying to sit the traditional Leaving Cert exam should be extended. 

“The deadline of this Friday, 2 October, is no longer realistic as students, upon receiving clarification on these errors, will need more time to consider their options,” he said.

- With reporting by Rónán Duffy and Christina Finn

Are you a student affected by the Calculated Grade error? Get in touch to tell your story: grainne@thejournal.ie.

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