Elaine Loughlin: Government needs schooling after Leaving Cert 'calculated mess'

The newly appointed Education Minister Norma Foley, has been in the firing line over what was a closely guarded system
Elaine Loughlin: Government needs schooling after Leaving Cert 'calculated mess'

Taoiseach Micheá l Martin tried to explain there had been issues with "the technology, the coding and so on" around calculated grades. Picture: Brian Lawless

The Taoiseach and his Government are the ones in need of schooling after yet another error has cast serious doubt over the entire Leaving Cert grading system.

The Leaving Certificate year is always a stressful time, but this year 61,000 students had to deal with the postponement and eventual cancellation of the state exams followed by the clunky rollout of a brand new assessment system.

They have been messed about since March, with little regard for their mental health or wellbeing.

The tens of thousands of students who have now logged on to virtual lectures and co-called 'blended' third-level learning, probably thought the stress of the Leaving Cert exam was behind them.

But the latest debacle came to light this afternoon when Labour leader Alan Kelly pressed the Taoiseach on delays in the appeals process.

"The Department of Education and Skills seems to have gone to ground all of sudden. I am wondering if there is some issue here that we need to know about?" Mr Kelly asked.

Yes, there was something that we all needed to know about.

Micheál Martin confirmed that two errors in the calculated grades had been unearthed. The errors identified by the department affect around 10% of pupils — many of whom have already started third-level courses.

"Above all, we need to make sure we can ease as much anxiety as possible in regard to the students," Mr Martin told the Dáil.

The fact that the Taoiseach had no more to offer provided little reassurance to students who have already been subjected to a great deal of uncertainly.

Mr Martin tried to explain there had been issues with "the technology, the coding and so on" around calculated grades.

Mr Kelly quickly intervened to dub the latest development "a calculated mess".

But the latest announcement rounds off what has been six months of stress for students since schools were closed back in March.

In April it was forced to postpone the state exams until the end of July but details around timetabling and other logistics were scant if non-existent.

"Any minister who gave a guarantee on anything would be living in a fool's paradise," Mr McHugh admitted at the time.

Just a few weeks later the Government decided to go with plan B — a newly devised calculated grades system that would ask teachers "to draw on existing records and available evidence, to provide a fair, reasonable and carefully considered judgment of the most likely percentage mark that each student would have achieved".

Since then, the newly appointed Education Minister Norma Foley, has been in the firing line over what was a closely guarded system — the department only providing details of the algorithms and weightings used on the day the results were released.

Serious flaws in the calculated grades system in the UK only added to the concerns of students ahead of results day, forcing the minister to remove the school profiling element of grading. This seemed to have resolved the issue, until today.

Responding to the latest controversy, principals' organisation NAPD said the class of 2020 had participated in the calculated grades system with the "upmost maturity and understanding".

Those students now deserve to be treated with the same maturity and understanding by the Government.

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