01 September, 2020 – Minister Foley announces details of Calculated Grades model for Leaving Certificate 2020 and Minister Harris confirms the provision of 1,250 additional places in certain high-demand programmes in higher education institutions

Minister for Education Norma Foley TD has today, Tuesday 1 September, announced further details of the Calculated Grades model for Leaving Certificate 2020 and Minister for Further and Higher Education Research, Innovation and Science Simon Harris TD confirmed 1,250 additional higher education places to be offered on certain high-demand courses for the academic year 2020/21.

The announcement came following a Government decision on proposals put forward by Minister Foley to amend the national standardisation process which forms part of the Calculated Grades model.

Under the Calculated Grades model, estimated marks from schools will be adjusted, as planned, to ensure that a consistent standard is applied across schools throughout the country, when judging the performance of students. The change introduced by Minister Foley removes the use of school-by-school historical data in the standardisation model. This places a greater emphasis on the estimated marks provided by schools to individual students. The change was driven by the Minister to ensure equity and fairness in the process.

Minister Harris received Government approval for an increase of 1,250 in the overall number of CAO places offered on certain high-demand courses in Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) for the academic year 2020/21.

These places are additional to the 1,415 additional places in key skills areas under Pillar 2 of the Human Capital Initiative that have already been announced to come on stream this year.

Minister Foley said: “The Government’s decisions today will provide additional reassurances to Leaving Certificate 2020 students that their unique situation has been understood and treated fairly.

“Equity and fairness must be at the heart of everything we do as a society. From my first day as Minister for Education I have been determined that in this extraordinary year, the system in place to mark students’ achievements of their years in post-primary education would be the fairest possible system under these challenging safeguards.

“While the Irish Calculated Grades model had inherent safeguards that marked it as more equitable than those that were used in other jurisdictions, I felt we could do more to assure our students of the fairness of our system.

“I have considered the effects and impacts of the standardisation model we are using, the importance of ensuring that students from disadvantaged backgrounds are not treated unfairly and the experiences in other jurisdictions in this regard.

“The Government has supported my recommendation to achieve this objective. The standardisation model used in the Calculated Grades system will not include data on how a school has historically performed at Leaving Certificate.

“The national standardisation process that we have put in place will ensure consistency of approach across schools, so that no student will be unfairly advantaged or disadvantaged.

“Taking out the school-by-school historical data from the standardisation process removes any risk that a Leaving Certificate student’s results can be impacted by the performance of Leaving Certificate classes in his or her school in previous years. Your school will not determine the results that you get through standardisation this year.

“Although the process is still being run, the preliminary data indicates that there need be no concern about students being unfairly disadvantaged by the process. This is the fairest approach and the right approach.

“I am pleased that we have taken the time to get this right, and learned from others, and listened to the concerns of students. I am also grateful to Minister Harris for our collaborative approach to providing greater access to higher education for our students.”

The matter was discussed at a meeting of the stakeholder advisory group this morning which includes representatives of students, parents, teachers, school leadership and management bodies, the State Examinations Commission, the National Educational Psychological Service, the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment and the Department.

Minister Harris said: “I am delighted to have the support of my cabinet colleagues to provide an additional 1,250 places in our universities and institutes of technology, in a diverse range of high-demand courses as part of a package of measures to support those applying to college in 2020.

“Providing more places on high-demand courses gives us scope to ease anxiety, reduce uncertainty and demonstrate the ability of the education system to respond to student concerns.

“The extra places are focused on high-demand programmes that traditionally attract students across a range of CAO points levels, and this will a have a cascade effect, creating greater capacity in lower demand courses.

“I am delighted that the higher education system has responded so willingly and with such positivity to the requirement to provide additional places in 2020 and I thank colleagues across the sector for their willingness to respond.

“I know that some options usually open to school leavers, such as such travel and alternative experiences, will be more restricted than in the past. Across the higher and further education system there are more choices and options than ever before for our Leaving Certificate students.

“There is excellent guidance and career planning support to help you define your path. The most obvious route is never the only route and is not always the best route, and studying something in an area of interest to you and discovering more about something you enjoy will always lead to new opportunities.”

Minister Foley also noted: “I also want to assure students that when they get their results on 7 September, they will have access to the usual range of supports and information available on results day. I have asked your schools to put in place and communicate directly to you arrangements measures to guidance support either in the school, with access at a particular time to accommodate social distancing, or via telephone.

“The Department also supports the helpline provided by the National Parents Council Post-Primary and the Institute of Guidance Counsellors and details on that will be provided to students.”


Notes to Editors

Calculated Grades for Leaving Certificate 2020


Information Note

Decision to postpone Leaving Certificate Exams

On 8 May 2020, Government decided to postpone the Leaving Certificate Exams. This was because it was not possible to run traditional exams in July and August whilst following the health advice. In addition, shortened or severely restricted exams would not have been valid or reliable; a significant proportion of candidates would have been unable to sit any examinations because of confirmed or suspected personal illness, the need to self-isolate and family bereavement and there were concerns about the mental health and wellbeing of already vulnerable Leaving Certificate students at this time.


Calculated Grades Model

Government also offered students the option to receive a set of Calculated Grades based on schools’ predictions as to what their students would be likely to receive in the Leaving Certificate. Calculated grades would use schools’ estimates of students’ marks and their rankings in their classes and then rely on a process of standardisation to ensure equity of treatment for students across schools and the maintenance of comparable standards with Leaving Certificate outcomes in the past and future years and with the postponed Leaving Certificate 2020 Exams.


It was decided that the data that would be used in the standardisation process for each subject and each level (Higher, Ordinary and Foundation) would be as follows:


  • Estimated marksand rankings of students supplied by schools following alignment and oversight by principal – the main raw data for the calculated grades
  • A prediction of the likely Leaving Certificate performance of the class of 2020 in each school based on the performance of those students when they sat the Junior Cycle examinations (regression data) – to help construct a likely range of performance of this group of students in this year
  • The historic pattern of results at Leaving Certificate (the “historic school distribution”) in each subject and at each level on a school-by-school basis (based on last three years of Leaving Certificate results)
  • The historic pattern of results at Leaving Certificate nationally (the “historic national standard or distribution”– to assist in maintenance of long-term standards

  Standardisation is needed to ensure all students are treated equitably

  • Different schools took different approaches to estimating marksand rank orders, which varied between schools and between subjects within schools. Not standardising the marks would lead to unfairness to students and to schools who engaged most faithfully with the system
  • Standardisation can ensure a degree of comparability for Leaving Certificate candidates of 2019, 2020 and 2021. Students receiving calculated grades will be competing for places in Higher Education and Further Education and Training with candidates who sat the Leaving Certificate in 2019 and who will sit examinations in 2020 and 2021. This must be balanced with fairness to students affected by the exceptional circumstances of this year and public confidence in the Calculated Grades Model
  • Standardisation prevents excessive and uncontrolled grade inflation. Teachers’/schools’ estimated marks are inflated this year and this was anticipated. For example, aggregated across all subjects, the percentage of Grade 1s at Higher Level in teacher estimates more than doubled in many subjects, tripled in some subjects, compared to previous years. Such uncontrolled growth in scores is not credible in one school year
  • Allowing unrealistically high estimates from some schools would also mean the CAO points would rise significantly. Students from schools that had not inflated marks would be at a severe disadvantage vis-à-vis students from other schools

  A distinctive model of standardisation that incorporates important safeguards  

There are distinctive aspects to Ireland’s standardisation model which are particularly important

  • We have given primacy to the teachers’ estimated marks. The standardisation model takes as its starting point the teachers’ estimates marks, not the historical patterns of achievement in each school used as starting point in the UK
  • We collected quite precise information about student achievement. We collected estimated percentage marks for each subject for each student from schools, not estimated grades. This allows us to adjust much more carefully how we combine different sources of information that we have concerning students’ performance
  • We built in systems that are able to identify and fairly accredit the learning of an exceptional student, irrespective of the school that he or she attended. A student’s performance cannot be constrained by historical school performance if data from the teacher shows the student may be exceptional
  • We have developed the model over time; applied each version to the data

–        Ensuring that each version of the standardisation process would work fairly for all subjects and at each level (Higher, Ordinary, Foundation)

–        Checking to ensure that each version of the model did not have unintended consequences

–        Adjusting model each time to ensure that results were fulfilling commitments to fairness and equity

–        Monitoring carefully the extent to which student scores were moderated up and down

–        Learning from emerging evidence in other jurisdictions, including learning about public and student confidence in the system

  • We have examined how the system would work if historic school-by-school data was removed from the calculations. We decided to remove this data
  • We have also lessened the importance placed on the historic national standards


We have adopted an approach that:

    • Has the teachers’ estimated marks at its core
    • Preserves the school’s placing of students relative to each other (ranking)
    • Does not constrain the performance of a student to the average performance of the school; This ensures students can be confident there is no risk of “unfair profiling” or  “post-code lottery”
    • Identifies and fairly rewards stronger performing students in traditionally lower performing schools, provided schools have identified such candidates in their data
    • Recognises the exceptional circumstances experienced by students in 2020
    • Prioritises fairness for the students of 2020 over eliminating grade inflation. The model allows for some grade inflation to occur but seeks to have results broadly comparable across schools
    • Does not show any negative effects against disadvantaged schools




  • Adopting the preferred standardisation model, the average reduction in student marks following standardisation 0.8% in DEIS schools while the reduction is 1.3% in non-DEIS schools.


  • In terms of grades across all levels (Higher, Ordinary Common and Foundation Levels), 79.3% of student grades remain unchanged as a result of standardisation. In DEIS schools 81.2% of grades are unchanged while in non-DEIS schools the figure is 79.4%.


  • 3.9% of grades increase as a result of standardisation, with the increase being 5% in DEIS schools as compared to a 3.7% increase in non-DEIS schools.


  • 16.8% of all grades are reduced by one grade as a result of standardisation, with 13.6% grades being decreased by one grade in DEIS schools compared to 16.8% in non-DEIS schools.


  • 0.1% of all grades are reduced by two or more grades, with the figure being 0.1% in DEIS schools and 0.1% in non-DEIS schools.


In summary, this means that–


  • The average reduction in school marks as a result of standardisation is less in DEIS schools compared in non-DEIS schools.
  • A very large proportion of school-estimated grades are unchanged following standardisation
  • A small proportion of school-estimated grades are increased by standardisation. There are higher increases in DEIS schools versus non-DEIS schools
  • Also, the proportion of grades increased and the proportion of grades unchanged in DEIS schools exceeds those proportions in non-DEIS schools (combined, this is 86.2% in DEIS schools versus 83.1% in non-DEIS schools).
  • A smaller proportion of grades are reduced in DEIS schools compared to non-DEIS schools.



  • 1 September:    Finalise standardisation process subject to government approval
  • 1 September:   Finalise plans for increased places in HE and FE at government
  • 7 September:   Issue of results to students and schools – available on student portal
  • 7 September:   UCAS offers received by students
  • 11 September:  CAO offers received by students
  • 14 September:  Appeals process opens
  • 14 September:  Each student may gain access to the school’s estimated mark and calculated marks from Calculated Grades Executive Office