UCD Academic Dr Shane Bergin, has expressed criticism of Minister for Education Norma Foley’s assurances that the Leaving Cert calculated grades system will be “accurate, reliable and fair to all students”, in a letter to the Irish Times. 

Dr Bergin, a physicist and assistant professor in science education at UCD, joins students, parents and teachers in expressing concern ahead of the release of the Leaving Cert predicted grade results in light of the controversy surrounding the release of A-level results across the UK. 

Bergin states in his letter that the calculated grades system cannot produce both accurate and unbiased results and questions whether the calculated grades should attempt to replicate or eradicate the bias generally faced by students from socio-economically disadvantaged communities who undertake the Leaving Certificate every year. He also adds that the “broader issue” facing the education sector is “how biases persist in our education system, as a whole, and how we can address them”. 

Minister Foley and Bergin’s comments were sparked by the outrage reported among students in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland after A-level results showed a significant amount of grades were lower than teachers’ predictions. In England, it is reported that students from poorer backgrounds were most likely to have their teachers’ predictions downgraded. In Scotland, it has been decided to reverse calculated grades due to systematic biases against pupils from socially disadvantaged areas. 

Concern persists in spite of Minister Foley’s reassurances due to the similarities between the Irish and UK approaches to calculated grades which both take into account a combination of teachers’ proposed grades, the schools’ historical performance and a national standardisation process.

Today in Northern Ireland, it was decided that GCSE students will be graded solely based on teachers’ predictions in order to minimise potential prejudice. Niall Muldoon, Ombudsman for children, asserted that school profiling should not dictate Leaving Certificate grades and that “fairness and equity should trump comparability”. These developments could indicate the possibility of the Leaving Certificate grades being decided in the absence of the schools’ historical performance. While there is still time to learn from the UK’s A-level mistakes, it remains to be seen whether the promise of accurate and fair grades for Leaving Cert students will be realised. 

The College Tribune has reached out to Dr Bergin for further comment on his letter, but at the time of publication we did not receive a response.

Iseult O’Callaghan – Reporter