Students have once again been left in limbo after the education minister revealed errors in the Leaving Cert calculated grades system — a week after she was first advised of the issue.
The full impact of these errors has not yet been confirmed, but the Department of Education believes that approximately 6,500 students received lower grades than they should have as a result of two flaws in the system.
An initial coding error with the Department of Education’s standardisation process was discovered last Tuesday by Polymetrika International, an external contractor, the night before the second round of offers for college places was issued to students.
A second error was later discovered by the Department of Education while performing further checks.
It could take a number of weeks for the full scale of these flaws to unfold, and affected students have yet to be advised as to what will happen. A team of international experts is assessing the department’s review of the "relevant" aspects of the code.
The errors also call into question the veracity of the calculated grades system, which students and teachers were repeatedly told would be “accurate, reliable, and fair”.
While education minister Norma Foley has said that students who missed out on a course due to the errors will be accommodated, there is no guarantee yet they will be offered a place on their preferred course this year.
University sources have also expressed some reservations about the creation of extra places, as it is not yet known which courses will be affected. The numbers attending courses with high points, such as medicine, dentistry, and veterinary, are capped due to space in labs and other facilities.
It is understood that the Department of Further and Higher Education intends to work with other departments to increase these caps if needed. Sources in the department believe it is extremely likely that additional places will be created if needed.
Ms Foley said she was first advised last Wednesday by Seán Ó Foghlú, secretary-general of her department, that a "mistake" had been spotted by Polymetrika, a Canadian contractor paid €160,000 to oversee the function of predicted grades.
According to Ms Foley, the Taoiseach's department was made aware of the mistake last Wednesday, shortly after the error was uncovered, and the Taoiseach "was as surprised as [she] was".
"At that point, here is what we know," said Ms Foley. "One line [of code] out of 50,000 lines had a mistake in it that would impact the results of some students.
"It was important to find out as much as possible before making announcements. This shouldn't have happened, and will be distressing for students who thought this process was complete. On behalf of the department, I want to apologise sincerely for the situation and the upset it will cause."
Ministers were not told about the errors when Cabinet met earlier this week. Public expenditure minister Michael McGrath said he learned about the errors the same way everyone else did, adding "it was not discussed at Cabinet".
Members of the Opposition branded the latest development an "omnishambles", calling for Ms Foley to take questions on the matter in the Dáil as soon as possible.
The current review of "relevant aspects" of the code by Educational Testing Service (ETS) is expected to take a number of days. Once this review is completed, the department will contact all students, advising if they will receive a higher grade or grades, or that they have not been impacted. Ms Foley said she is happy to appear in the Dáil after this process is completed.