Leaving Cert legal challenge: Using historical data would not have hit disadvantaged schools

The Minister and the State deny the claims and maintain there is no reason to believe Mr Sherry would be in an improved position if historical school data was included
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Ann O'Loughlin

The standardisation process used to estimate Leaving Certificate grades would not have discriminated against students attending disadvantaged schools even if data about schools' past performances in the exam had been included, the High Court has heard.

Feichín McDonagh SC for student Freddie Sherry, said the system envisaged by the authorities to estimate the award grades to students due to sit the Leaving Cert exam in 2020 was "highly sophisticated" and was not comparable to models that were used in England and Scotland.

Counsel said the standardisation process used to assess and award calculated A-Level grades in Scotland and England this year came in for much criticism.

This was because many students from disadvantaged areas in the UK seeing had their grades being disproportionately downgraded, compared to students from affluent areas or those who attended fee paying schools.


Counsel said in mid-August several articles were published by the Irish media citing fears that what happened in England and Scotland could happen here if schools' past performances in the Leaving Cert were used to estimate grades.

Articles in media

Counsel said the articles contained information that was not correct, as material was available in the public domain from the department to show that safeguards had been included in the Irish system to deal with the issues that occurred in the UK.

While counsel said he was "not being critical of any journalist", the material published in those articles about the Irish grade estimation process was "not particularly well informed", and were "lacking in insight".

Despite the availability of information to show that safeguards were in place, there were no articles published stating that what happened in the UK could not happen here.

Counsel said for reasons that have not been explained to his client the Minister, following the controversy in the UK, took a decision on August 21st not to use historical schools' data as part of the standardisation process.

This was despite the fact she had been given information by officials in advance of her decision that the use of the historical data would not adversely impact students attending schools in disadvantaged areas, he added.

Fee-paying student

Mr Sherry attended Dublin fee-paying school, Belvedere College, and claims that he was unfairly treated downgraded resulting in him missing out on his first choice of Pharmacy in TCD.

His action is the test case of approximately 50 challenges by other Leaving Cert students against the calculated grades process.

Mr Sherry, of Newtown, Celbridge, Co Kildare, claims the Minister's decision to remove school historical records in the calculated grades process resulted in him being unfairly downgraded by 55 points in his Leaving Cert.

He was hugely disappointed when his teachers’ estimated CAO points total of 542 for him was reduced to 487 under the process. He claims the Minister’s direction interfered in the calculated grades process overseen by an independent steering committee was unlawful.

The Minister and the State deny the claims and maintain there is no reason to believe Mr Sherry would be in an improved position if historical school data was included. It is also denied that the Minister breached any commitments regarding the fairness and the comparability regarding the 2020 grades, and that the action is non-justiciable, and vague.

The hearing, before Mr Justice Charles Meenan continues.


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