Legal challenges are expected to be launched into this year's Leaving Cert calculated grades system, with private grinds schools in particular claiming their students had been unfairly penalised.
The first round of CAO offers brought with it spectacular jumps in cut-off points yesterday, sparking Bruce College in Cork City and the Institute of Education in Dublin to say that many of their students have been left “bitterly disappointed”.
This year, almost half of all students applying for honours degrees through the CAO missed out on their first-preference course.
However, this is broadly in line with last year, and 80% were offered their first, second, or third choice.
At Bruce College, many of its 187 Leaving Cert students were disappointed on Friday, according to principal Micheál Landers.
“It has been a dismal week, one of the worst,” said Mr Landers, adding that 70% of the school’s students saw their calculated grades reduced by the Department of Education’s standardisation process.
While H1s and H2s increased nationally by almost 48% this year, these grades decreased significantly at Bruce compared to the school’s three-year average, according to Mr Landers.
“We’re asking for the Department of Education to review it, and to communicate with the school and tell us why nationally grades were up, but we were down,” he said. The school is happy to have the evidence it used during the process of estimating grades audited, he added.
The school has written to Taoiseach Micheál Martin and the Department of Education calling for an urgent examination of its results.
Separately, Yvonne O’Toole, the principal of the Institute of Education in Dublin, said many of its 800 Leaving Cert students have been left "distraught".
“We have bitterly disappointed students," she said. "Many of the students got option number 10, and we have people who got no course.”
Standardisation resulted in 96% of the school’s students being downgraded, she added.
“We are asking very clearly for the minister to put in place a robust appeals process," she said. "This is a new system — untried and untested. We want a robust appeals process in place.”
Ms O’Toole believes that high-performing schools have been penalised by the calculated grades system.
When asked if she believed legal action would be taken, she said: “Absolutely, without a doubt. I know that is happening because we have students at the moment who are that distraught. If there was a robust appeals process, it might be different.”
Simon Harris, minister for further and higher education, said it was not for him to comment on whether there would be legal cases.
“We live in a democracy with an independent judiciary, and it's right and proper that anybody can take legal advice in relation to what's best for them or their family,” he said.
He said he is satisfied that the standardisation process used was sophisticated enough to identify individual cases in particular types of schools, and that the process was fair.
A Department of Education spokesman said the calculated grades model is blind to the type of school or education centre estimated grades were submitted for.
Private colleges are not recognised schools, but fall under the ‘other’ category in the report of the National Standardisation Group, he added. This includes further education settings such as VTOS and Youthreach.
The average estimated mark provided by schools and other settings in this category is 72%, which means the impact of standardisation was to reduce grades by 1.4%, while still leaving them well ahead of what would be expected in a normal year, he added.