The executives of the country's two second-level teacher unions met last night to consider the implications of a newly-devised 'calculated grades' system that will replace this year's cancelled summer Leaving Certificate exams.

All students have been given the option of sitting written Leaving Certificate exams at a later date, as yet undetermined, should they choose.

Students will also be able to appeal the grades they are given.

There will be four layers to the calculated grades system:

  • An estimation of marks and rankings by a student's teacher. The teacher will estimate a percentage mark for each student, and also their ranking compared to classmates. This will happen for each individual subject. 
  • This will then be subjected to an in-school alignment process, in which subject teachers will work together to finalise their estimated marks and rankings. 
  • The school principal will review and sign off on marks, and may return estimated ranking or marks to teachers for further consideration.
  • A process of national standardisation using statistical methods to ensure a common national standard is applied. 

Minister for Education Joe McHugh said he had made every effort to run the Leaving Cert as close as possible to the way they were originally intended. He said the decision to cancel had been taken "with a heavy heart".

But he said he had compelling evidence based on medical advice and other assessments that it would not be possible to hold the exams in a reliable and valid manner and in a way that would be equitable for students. 

Teachers are being asked to give students marks for each individual component of a subject, for example coursework, written papers, or an oral or practical examination.

This supersedes the decision that was made earlier to grant students 100% in lieu of oral exams.

No date has as yet been finalised for the releasing of results to students under this calculated grades system, but the minister said he would like it to be as close as possible to the traditional mid-August date and that the certificate awarded would be the same as in previous years.

Mr McHugh said the department had been advised of legal "vulnerabilities", because students had "a legitimate expectation" to sit the Leaving Certificate exams. 

He said the decision had been made because there was now "compelling advice which made proceeding with the exams impossible". He said that while he would have preferred a written exam, it wouldn't be fair to ask students to do this. He said students could now "get on with their lives".

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Mr McHugh said students' work would be assessed from their senior cycle education up until the point where the schools closed.

Teachers will not be allowed to discuss grading with students.

While there will be an appeals mechanism, it will not be possible to appeal the judgement that the teacher has made about a student - once that judgement has been approved by other subject teachers at the school and by the school principal.

The State Examinations Commission, which traditionally runs the Leaving Certificate exams, will not be involved in this alternative calculated grades process. This is because this new system does not include exams as defined by legislation, and so the SEC cannot be involved.

In the final stages of the process estimated marks and class rank orders will be collected from schools and will then be adjusted as part of a national standardisation process, using data from the State Examinations.

Account will be taken of prior performance of a school. But checks will be carried out to identify cases where there might be "something unusual about an individual’s estimated mark".

This is likely to refer to cases where there may be a particularly high-achieving student attending a school with a record of weaker results.

There is evidence from the UK that high performing students in disadvantaged schools can have their abilities underrated in systems of calculated or predicted grades.

The mark assigned by the school will not necessarily be the final mark that the student will receive.

It is only after the national standardization process takes place that 'grades' themselves will be calculated and issued to candidates.

When the grades are finalised for each student, a formal and fully valid state certificate will be issued.

Mr McHugh said students can appeal grades. This will be done by checking the school-entered data, ensuring it was correctly transferred and received, and independent appeals scrutineers will be able to verify the department's processes.

The option to sit an exam will be available to all candidates. Those exams will take place when it is deemed safe, but will not be in time for use in this year's CAO applications process.

He said it would be unfair to expect 61,000 students to have to put their lives and their future education on hold as we wait for the virus to disappear.

In a statement this evening, the National Parents Council Post Primary, which advocates for parents and guardians of post-primary students, said it "welcomes the prompt response and the announcement by Minister McHugh today".

It added: "This will bring clarity and relief to the vast majority of students.

"NPCPP will now consider all aspects of the announcement, together with some clarifications and will continue to advocate for all students and parents to ensure that fairness and equity remain at the core of the process."

Difficulties have been identified for students who are studying additional subjects without the supervision or guidance of a teacher.

This includes many of the 1,800 students who sit exams in non-curricular EU languages such as Polish or Romanian. Many of these students are native speakers and do not require or avail of teaching. If no teacher is involved then there is no way of measuring their ability.

However, those students can sit exams in those subjects at a later stage.