The dramatic A-level U-turns in Northern Ireland and England have added to uncertainty, concern and unease among schools and students and their parents here.  

Especially those connected with schools in our more disadvantaged communities. They are wondering "will our process be equally classbound? Equally unfair to our students from more disadvantaged backgrounds?". 

After an outcry across the UK over calculated grade results that seemed to favour students from affluent backgrounds over those from deprived areas, Scotland was the first to announce a reversal, then England and Northern Ireland followed suit. 

All three withdrew results that were downgrades in a national standardisation process in favour of the actual marks given to students by their teachers. 

Teachers in the UK are very experienced in predicting their students A-level grades

Ireland’s system for calculated grades is very similar to that of the UK. It begins with teachers estimating a mark, and then those marks are filtered through a moderating process that takes into account national trends so that the results are comparable with those of previous years, in other words, to prevent grade inflation. 

But there is one crucial difference here. Teachers in the UK are extremely experienced in predicting their students A-level grades. Every year, college applications are accompanied by predicted grades from teachers, and college places are awarded – provisionally – on the basis of those estimated results.

Teachers in the UK have honed the practice. Because every year their predictions can then be compared to a student’s actual result they have a vested interest in getting it right.

The British system also tests students far more, with at least two, if not three, sets of 'mock’ exams in a student’s final year.  

Irish teachers have no such experience or systems, so their ability to predict a student’s performance for calculated grades purposes will not be anywhere near so finely tuned.  

Speaking to the principals of Irish DEIS - or disadvantaged - schools, three different pictures emerge.

"We didn't inflate any marks... the marks we gave are genuine and real." 

One principal tells me they know their teachers were too generous with the marks they awarded their students. Overall, the marks given were significantly higher than in recent previous years.

However, this principal does counter this somewhat by stressing that they have this year, for instance, one especially bright and driven student. Such a student would skew overall percentages. 

A second DEIS principal tells me the opposite. "We didn’t inflate any marks", this principal says, "the marks we gave are genuine and real".  

This principal is now very concerned. She is worried that if Ireland goes the way of the UK, and students receive the actual mark given them by their teacher, without national moderation, then students from her school will lose out, simply because their teachers were not overgenerous.  

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A third DEIS principal says the results coming from their schools "would be a little bit higher in certain areas compared to previous years". 

"But I felt they were justified. We are an improving school, as are other DEIS schools.I wouldn’t have signed off on those results if I didn’t feel I could stand over them," they add. 

All three of these principals are wondering today what will happen now, and there are no easy answers. 

"I’m hoping the Department algorithm isn’t as classbound as the British one seems to have been", says one."I’d have a lot of faith in the Department inspectorate though."

Others in the sector echo that. "I have no doubt they will do their level best," says one, pointing to the delay in the publication of this year’s results as indicative of additional care that may be being taken.  

All eyes are on the Minister for Education Norma Foley. People want to hear from her.  

The principal of one school in a disadvantaged area feels that students will take to the streets if it emerges that this year’s calculated grades unfairly penalise those from less affluent areas.  

However, schools also feel that some national moderation is necessary.  

"This year's Leaving Certs have been through enough. They don’t need any more slaps."

"I do think the results need to be standardised to some extent, because there hasn’t been consistency between schools in estimating marks," says this last school principal.  

This goes back to the fact that unlike in the UK, Irish teachers do not have as robust a tradition of predicting students' grades, so the marks teachers will have awarded are more likely to be out of kilter.

"But it will have to be a light touch. This year’s Leaving Certs have been through enough. They don’t need any more slaps."