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Legal action threatened as some private schools unhappy with Leaving Cert results

Additional reporting from Elaine Loughlin

Leaving Certificate students have been assessing their options following the release of calculated grades yesterday, with some considering legal action.

As reported in The Irish Times, legal firms have noted an increase in the number of enquiries from parents and staff from fee-paying and grind schools.

School profiling was not taken into account in the standardisation of the calculated grades, in order to ensure that past performances of schools would not negatively impact students this year.

This measure was not taken in the UK, which resulted in a much higher percentage of students from schools in disadvantaged areas having their grades reduced by the standardisation process.

However, some fee-paying and grind schools have said the removal of school profiling is not fair as it negatively impacts on high-achieving schools.

When the decision to remove school profiling as a consideration in the standardisation process prior to their release of grades, Minister for Education Norma Foley said the process would be "blind" to socio-economic factors to ensure all students would be treated equally.

A legal source, quoted in The Irish Times piece said parents and teachers from fee-paying and grind schools were surprised at the low level of top results achieved by their students, particularly given the grade inflation recorded this year.

Despite the standardisation process, which aimed to bring the calculated grades from this year in line with grades achieved in Leaving Certificate examinations in previous years, an average improvement in results of 4.4 per cent was noted across all subjects.

The disclosure of the grade originally given by teachers would be key in determining if there are ground for legal action said Brian Gill, head of employment law and commercial litigation at Callan Tansey Solicitors.

“The irony in this is that many of the schools that have done very well out of the system over many years are the ones who now feel they have lost out on this occasion,” he said.

Another issue facing the Department of Education is that of students from previous Leaving Certificate classes who are applying to the CAO system this year for a place in a third-level institute.

Due to the grade inflation this year, students from previous years may be at a disadvantage seeing as the class of 2020 may have received better marks compared to other years.

Students who sat Leaving Cert exams prior to now could miss out on college places they would have qualified for in previous years as the improved results this year is expected to drive CAO points up.

Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris acknowledged that it is "likely" that points for third level courses will jump, but he would not be providing specific places for those from previous years.

"The legal advice available to me is that if I ring-fence places that you actually end up creating further legal complications.

"It seems to be the fairest way, the most equitable way, the practical way of helping as many people as possible from as many years as possible to get into higher education is to provide more and more more and more places and that's what we're doing."

"About 20,000 people have applied to the CAO from previous years right back to 1985 up to 2019. Of them about 12,000 they estimate will already get places and offers based on being mature students, having a deferred place, so there are about 8,000 who may not yet have a place, many of them will get offers.

"But of course, some of them will be anxious so that's why we are putting more places into the system. We're trying to make this fair for everyone."

CAO Round One offers will be issued on Friday.