Continued Leaving Certificate grade inflation sparks criticism

Leaving Certificate results once again saw a continuation of the inflation established over the COVID-19 lockdowns, despite the complete return to in person examinations.

This move to maintain inflation has sparked criticism from several bodies and individuals involved in third level education.

Since the turn to continuous assessment grading at the outset of the pandemic, Leaving Certificate grades have seen steep and maintained inflation at the highest level, with little to no change in the 2021/22 academic year results, which were released on Friday, September 2nd.

The grades continued their upward inflation to better match the previous years’ highs, with the intention of preventing students who sat this year's Leaving Certificate from being at a disadvantage when competing with the class of 2021, who deferred their places or took gap years and applied to college this year instead. 

Speaking to the Irish Times, Prof Ciarán Ó hÓgartaigh, President of the University of Galway, said that the inflated grades were an “injustice” to students, as they make it harder to identify top performing students. The Times also reported that approximately 50% of students received adjusted grades this year, with a higher percentage of those adjustments occurring among the lower percentage of marks, and fewer adjustments made at H1 level.

Speaking to the University Observer, UCDSU Education Officer, Martha Ní Riada, stated that “The inflation of Leaving Cert grades over the last few years has made access to further education and institutions like UCD less accessible.” She went on to say that “The recent grade inflation has highlighted the systemic issues within the Leaving Cert system and we must call for reform of the elitist and exclusionary points system. Social Justice Ireland reported last year that

82% of all H1s awarded were to privately educated students, despite making up only 6% of the population, this clearly shows that our system is not equal and those coming from privileged backgrounds are further rewarded. The points lottery for college places resulting from inflated grades is symptomatic of this broken system. [...] The degree of grade inflation this far out from the initial pandemic does not serve students and is unsustainable. Subjecting students on the same points to a lottery system for acceptance into their college course is unfair and not in their best interest. [...] UCDSU would support a return to the old averages, as if grades continue to increase at the current rate we will have a completely unworkable system within a year or two as many of the high points courses will have to base their allocation of courses on a lottery system.”

In response to Prof Ó hÓgartaigh’s comments in the Times, Ní Riada maintains “I would agree with Professor Ciarán Ó hÓgartaigh’s assertion that inflated grades are doing an injustice to students, however, I would go further by stating that every year Leaving Cert grades do an injustice to students through not acknowledging the inequality in access to private grinds and education, a lack of recognition of the differing learning styles of students, and a focus on rote learning. The meritocracy of the CAO points system for entry into third level education is inherently exclusionary as privilege is not acknowledged.”

The State Examinations Commission maintain that all adjustments were made to maintain a “fair and equitable” treatment of students applying to higher and further education institutions.