The number of students achieving six H1s in the Leaving Certificate increased almost five-fold between last year and 2019, new figures released by the State Examinations Commission reveal.
Last year 910 students received six H1s, which gives a student the maximum possible CAO points score, compared to 419 in 2020, and just 196 in 2019.
The data lays bare the extent of grade inflation that has taken place over two years of disruption to the normal exams process.
Overall, the proportion of H1s awarded more than doubled over the period, from 4% of all grades in 2019, to 7% in 2020, and to 10% of all grades last year.
The figures have been published after a week which saw mounting pressure placed on the authorities to provide some form of hybrid assessment approach again this year.
Leaving Certificate students released a survey which indicated that two thirds of 6th years wanted a hybrid approach, and students protested at several locations around the country to highlight their concerns.
In what hinted at a shift in the Government's position, Taoiseach Micheál Martin indicated twice over the past week that a hybrid approach had not been ruled out entirely.
However in the Dáil on Tuesday he warned of particular challenges this year.
Mr Martin said capacity in the third level sector to provide the equivalent number of additional places compared to the past two years "may not be as high, to put it charitably".
He warned that hybrid models created grade inflation.
Many of this year’s students however, argue that they are competing for scarce college places against others who received bumper results last year and the year before, as a result of the hybrid model.
They argue that, in order to compete on a level playing field, they too should be offered a choice between accredited grades or Leaving Certificate exams. Today's data supports their argument.
Last year’s hybrid Leaving Certificate led to a total of 41,704 H1 grades being awarded, compared to 27,084 in 2020, and just 15,332 in 2019.
On Wednesday students met the Minister for Education, along with parent, and teacher representatives as well as other organisations such as the State Examinations Commission to discuss Leaving Certificate assessment plans.
Since then, bilateral meetings have been taking place between department officials and bodies such as the teacher unions.
Teacher unions favour a return to the traditional Leaving Certificate format.
Up to a week ago a traditional Leaving Certificate appeared to be the firm plan of the Minister for Education Norma Foley and her department - with concessions around question choice and other areas.
However, it looks now as if strong pressure from students may be about to upset all that, once again.
In the Dáil on Tuesday the Taoiseach accepted the need for certainty for students and said the Government would move as "quickly" as it can.
Dáil to hear SF motion on hybrid Leaving Cert
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald has said they are bringing a motion to the Dáil next week calling for this hybrid Leaving Certificate or choice to be afforded to students.
"The reality is this years stude,ts have had disruption right throughout their Leaving Cert cycle," she said on RTÉ's This Week.
"In an ideal world we would return back to normal but I think there has to be an element of reality and fairness for these students and recognition of disruption."
However she added that grade inflation is a concern.
"Equally of concern is you don't create a cliff edge for this year's students. All of this is just about fairness. Leaving Cert students will have to apply themselves whether they take traditional papers or predicted grades."
"We have to be fair and conscious and outside of the book work a huge ask has been made of them. Even with restrictions gone, they will still have their masks on and be in cold classrooms with windows open. We are not back by any stretch to normality for students."