Cork Leaving Cert student initiates High Court challenge over standardised grading system

Cork Leaving Cert student initiates High Court challenge over standardised grading system

A young woman who got 613 points in the 2019 Leaving Certificate has initiated a High Court challenge claiming the manner in which Leaving Cert grades were standardised this year has unfairly impacted on her ambition to pursue a dentistry career.

Martha Woods, Millbrook House, Murragh, Enniskeane, Co Cork, said the points for dentistry in UCC rose this year from 590 points to 613, the final applicants for that course all had 613 points, places were allocated by random selection and she failed to get a place.

When her action came before Mr Justice Charles Meenan on Thursday, he accepted it was a “very important” matter but expressed concern about the courts’ ability to accommodate early hearings of a multiplicity of cases concerning the 2020 Leaving Cert grading process.

He said he will treat another case initiated earlier this week as the lead case addressing issues with the 2020 Leaving Cert process and hoped to give that an early hearing date.

That case is by Aine Finnegan, from Fairview, Dublin, who missed out on a place in Medicine at Trinity College Dublin by two points after three of her calculated grades were reduced.

The judge expected the outcome of the Finnegan case would decide some or all of the issues raised in other cases, adding parties in other cases may seek to be joined to the lead case.

In those circumstances, the judge told Pearse Sreenan SC, instructed by Amy Connolly, of Cantillons Solicitors, for Ms Woods, he was adjourning to next week her application to bring the judicial review proceedings against the Minister for Education, State Examinations Commission, the State, CAO and UCC.

Outlining the case, Mr Sreenan said Ms Woods 2019 grades’ were assessed against a“completely different” system this year which involved a 4.4 per cent grade inflation, with the effect she was assessed in the same basket as other applicants who have the benefit of grade inflation.

That breaches her entitlement to equality and creates an injustice and "imbalance” which the Department of Education, the CAO and UCC have taken no steps to address, he said.

If the Department cannot or will not increase grades of Leaving Cert students who came before 2020 by 4.4 per cent, the CAO and UCC have discretionary power to take into account she did not come through the 2020 process but had not availed of that and were using “a one size fits all approach” for people who had come through different processes.

In her affidavit, Ms Woods said she had got a place in physiotherapy in the University of Limerick for the 2019/2020 academic year but, shortly after starting that course, realised she did not want to pursue that career.

She decided to reapply for a place in Dentistry in UCC in the 2020/2021 academic year and expected to get one on the basis 590 points was the requirement, she had 613 points and, over the years, the points for that course ranged between 580 and 590.

She also expected Leaving Certificate results in 2020 would be standardised to ensure the average points secured remained largely constant. 

In her 2020 CAO application, she identified Dentistry and Pharmacy in UCC as her first and second preferences but would have identified Dental Science in TCD had she believed there was any risk grades and points awarded to students in 2020 “would not be standardised with previous years’results”.

After the Coronavirus emergency measures were introduced, she contacted the CAO seeking an update on the position of applicants who completed their Leaving in 2019 and had applied for a college place in 2020 and received a general response. She understood, from a guide on calculated grades for Leaving Cert students 2020, that grade standardisation would apply to ensure that results and points secured by students in 2020 would be in line with those achieved in previous years. When offers for places were released, she was “shocked and surprised” points had increased so significantly and was very disappointed when she was not offered a place in the UCC Dentistry course.

She had reluctantly accepted a place in Pharmacy in UCC “but my absolute career choice is dentistry” and she would move to a Dentistry course as soon as she could, even if that required reapplying to the CAO next year.

She felt “extremely let down” by how she was treated, “disenchanted by the entire system” and had suffered “significant stress and anxiety and upset”. If not offered a place in Dentistry in UCC this year, that would mean a year-long delay in obtaining a dentistry qualification and seeking employment arising from that, she said.

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