The first of several potential High Court challenges against the system used to calculate Leaving Cert results has come before the High Court.
The action against the State has been brought by Aine Finnegan, from Fairview, Dublin 3, who missed out on a place to study medicine at Trinity College Dublin by two points after three of her calculated grades were reduced.
Her application came before Mr Justice Charles Meenan on Wednesday, who was told that several other potential similar challenges to the calculated grades system are pending.
The court heard that the student studied for her Leaving Certificate at the fee-paying Institute of Education in Dublin. She studied there so she could obtain the required points to allow her fulfil her dream of studying medicine and becoming a doctor.
She had been doing well in her work, and had scored very highly in the Health Professions Admissions Test (HPAT), which must be done by anyone seeking a place in medicine.
Arising out of the examinations being cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic her teachers estimated grades gave her 6 H1s and 1 H2 in her chosen subjects.
However, in her calculated grades she was downgraded in three subjects – English, Spanish and Maths – from H1 to H2, leaving her two points off securing a place.
She claims that the process used by the State to calculate her grades was unfair to those in classes at high performing school which collectively obtain very high marks. She claims that the marks she was awarded under the standardisation process are not an accurate reflection of what she achieved in the three subjects downgraded.
As a result, she has brought proceedings against the Minister for Education, the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Ireland and the Attorney General. Trinity College is a notice party to the action.
The student, represented by Micheal O’Higgins SC, with Brendan Hennessy Bl instructed by solicitor Eileen McCabe, seeks various orders including an order quashing the decision to downgrade her calculated grades.
She also seeks declarations including that the standardisation model for calculated grades was unfair and contrary to law because it fails to give any appropriate weight to the high performance of her chosen school.
She further seeks declarations that the state acted unlawfully in downgrading her results by way of a crude adjustment of high estimated grades that appear in a cluster, and by failing to have an appropriate process for determining calculated grades for students attending a high performing school.
Counsel said his client was disappointed with the grades she received. He said that the school she attended had estimated that it would get over 70 H1s in Spanish and 120 H1s in Maths. However, following the standardisation process, counsel said, only half the expected number of students acheieved H1s in those subjects.
Counsel said while expert evidence concerning the standardisation process was still being obtained, his client was unsure what criteria were actually used by the State to estimate her grades.
Late in the day
Weight seemed to be attached to Junior Cert results, but it was not clear how much of her final those results counted for, counsel added. The State had “late in the day” decided that it would not take past historic performances of schools into account when calculating student’s final grades, counsel said.
Mr O’Higgins said the State did not appear to make corrections to the algorithm, or problem-solving process it used to estimate the grades, to take into account “clusters” where the majority of students in classes would achieve the highest grades.
This, he said, was unfair to his client and other students at such schools. Counsel also said that it is his client’s case that there is no meaningful appeal under the calculated grades system.
The judge said he was conscious of the tight time frame involved with the proceedings given the close proximity to the new academic year and students having the opportunity of sitting the Leaving Cert examinations in mid-November.
The judge also said the expert evidence would be required from both sides, and that these experts may need to be cross-examined. It was important, the judge said, that expert evidence be exchanged between the parties as soon as possible.
The judge said that given the complexities involved in the action he was directing that the application for permission to bring the challenge be heard on notice or in the presence of the other sides.
He adjourned the matter to a date next week.
Mr O’Higgins acknowledged the complexities involved with the case and said he was hopeful that the matter could be heard in early October.