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Some students affected by Leaving Cert grade errors may have to defer college course, Foley says

It’s understood 800 to 900 students may have lost out on a college place due to the situation.

Minister for Education Norma Foley (file photo).
Minister for Education Norma Foley (file photo).
Image: Julian Behal Photography via RollingNews.ie

EDUCATION MINISTER NORMA Foley has said some students may have to defer going to college until next year if they get offered a place on a different course due to their initial Leaving Certificate results being affected by an error that saw thousands of students receive an incorrect grade.

Yesterday it emerged that about 7,200 Leaving Cert grades were affected by errors in the calculated grades system.

It is not yet clear how many students lost out on a college place because of the issue, but it’s understood 800 to 900 students could be affected.

Universities have warned they do not have the capacity to offer places to all students may receive a new CAO offer on foot of the situation.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Foley said the Department of Education and the Department of Further and Higher Education will work together to try to ensure that all students who get an upgraded offer will receive it.

“There may well be a number of students who have to defer, but I have to say it is very early to make that call now,” Foley said.

The minister said “huge efforts were already made this year in terms of making extra places available”.

“Equally we have to acknowledge that there is an absolute intention from all concerned, my own department work hand in hand with the Department of Higher Education, to ensure a maximum number of places will be available and I have confidence that we will achieve that to the absolute limit.”

Sinn Féin’s Education Spokesperson Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire told the same programme it is not acceptable that students should have to defer due to the errors, saying they should not have to “wait in purgatory”.

“If they find out they’re in for a college course with their higher grade, it isn’t acceptable to say to them, you must now wait 12 months, you can look for a job, you can do a year of a course that maybe wasn’t your first choice, you can come back and do another course, but that’s not a fair option.

“To be honest, if this ended up in the courts, I don’t believe that the Department of Education would be on very strong ground given that it was their error or those working on their behalf, that denied the third level place to these students,” he said.

Labour’s Aodhán Ó Róirdáin said more college places should have been brought on stream this year and looking towards next year. 

“There should have been a realistic number of college paces in the system before this happened to allow for inevitable grade inflation, which I think any research has shown that’s what calculated grades provides,” he told reporters this morning. 

What could potentially happen in 2021 if Leaving Cert written exam doesn’t go ahead? And there’s no guarantee that it will go ahead, Are they going to revert to the same Calculated Grade system? Are they going to go through the whole process again? Are they going to have places available for those who are going to have to defer through no fault of their own.

Ó Ríordáin also said the minister should extend tomorrow’s deadline “by at least a week” for students to decide if they want to sit Leaving Cert exams in November.

Foley is due to address the Dáil and take questions just before 9pm this evening. 

Penalties for company

Yesterday Foley said there are sanctions associated with the Polymetrika International contract – the private company that developed the code for the calculated Leaving Cert grades.

At a press conference, it was confirmed the “original value” of the contract with the Canadian company was €75,000.

An official from the Department of Education said that “the expenditure to date” is €160,000. Not all the expenditure lies with the department but also with the State Examinations Commission as the contract was originally placed back in the “contingency planning days” in April, an official stated.

Asked about sanctions, the minister told TheJournal.ie there “are there penalties in relation to this … absolutely”.

However, the government’s focus “is very much so on ensuring the error that has occurred is corrected, the principle concern of the students”.

Two errors in the system

It was revealed by Taoiseach Micheál Martin yesterday that two errors were identified in the system, one identified by Polymetrica and the second by Department of Education officials.

Speaking at the press conference yesterday evening, Foley said some students received a higher grade than they should have while some students received a lower grade.

The minister said those who received a higher grade “will not be affected in any way” and that those who were marked down “will have their proper grade restored”.

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“When all our checks are completed, we will issue the corrected results to the students affected as soon as it is possible to do so. Every student will be contacted by text message and informed whether they are impacted or not,” she said.

The precise number of students who will receive higher grades will not be available until the process is completed, but it is likely to be in the region of 6,500. No student will receive a reduced grade in any subject as a result of this process.

A dedicated helpline and email address has been set up to answer queries from students: 01 889 2199 and LC2020@education.gov.ie.

- With reporting by Rónán Duffy

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Órla Ryan

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