Leaving Cert cancellation was 'right decision at right time', says President of Maynooth

Leaving Cert cancellation was 'right decision at right time', says President of Maynooth

The president of Maynooth University, Professor Philip Nolan has said that the decision to cancel the Leaving Certificate examination this year was the “right decision at the right time” and that Maynooth university expects to admit a “near to normal cohort” of first year students this autumn.

Prof Nolan, who is also chair of modelling at NPHET, told RTÉ radio’s Today programme that it was very important to remember that it was only 72 days since the first confirmed case of Covid-19 in Ireland.

“In the early days of the epidemic it was very unclear to anybody, including the Minister for Education, how things would play out over the coming months, so I think the first decision to postpone the examinations and look at a contingency plan was the right decision at that time.

“And as we learned more about the practicalities of running the examinations, about the feasibility and fairness of a calculated grades system, the strain that remote learning and the uncertainty around the examinations was placing on the students - I think those three factors, properly taken into account by the Minister, led to the right decision to defer the written examinations and to move to a system of calculated grades.”

Prof Nolan explained that there are two phases to the new system: “the first phase is for teachers, both individually and working together in their subject groups, to estimate, based on all the objective evidence that they have already, assessments already completed by students, what that student would have achieved if they sat the Leaving Certificate examinations and where the student would rank within the class group.

"It's important that the individual teacher’s judgement on an objective basis but also the teachers and the subject getting together and moderating each other's views, examining all the evidence together.

“There's a check then by the school principal - was the process followed? Are the outputs reasonable?

“And then there's a second national phase where the calculated rates submitted by the school are compared to what we would expect to come from that school based on looking back over previous Leaving and Junior cert results in that school.

“And also comparing this class with that class's own Junior Cert performance - it's very important to highlight that high achieving students or high achieving cohorts are not going to be held back by the system.

“It's the overall statistical picture of the grades put forward on the basis of the expert judgement of teachers, that's being examined at national level.”

Prof Nolan further explained that the overall distribution of grades for a school is similar, not identical, to the distribution of grades from preceding years.

“Of course there will always be individual outliers, there will always be high achieving students, one year and then maybe not so many next year.

"It's not to try to pick out individual outliers, it's to try to ensure that School A applies the system in the same way as School B and the best check on that is - broadly speaking, are you getting the same distribution of results from School A this year that you got in preceding years in School A.

“Individual marks may well change but individual students won't be treated any differently under this system than they would have under previous systems.

It's not going to pick out an individual outlier and somehow alter their position.

Prof Nolan said that he believed the decision to move to calculated grades will serve the students well.

“The vast majority of students are likely to be satisfied with the outcome of that, that allows those students to progress to further education from September, we would expect to be admitting a near to normal first year cohort in September and October.”

He added that the decision to cancel the Leaving Certificate has been made in close consultation with all the education partners, students, teachers and parents.

“It's going to be a very difficult year for everybody next year.

"Students will have the option at some point to sit a written examination, but they would be deferring entry to third level for another year, in the extra ordinary circumstances, this is the best we can do.”

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