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Cllr Michelle Hall / ‘Students must be assessed on merit, not postcode’

Norm Foley Michelle Hall
Minister for Education Norma Foley and Cllr Michelle Hall.

Labour Cllr for Drogheda Michelle Hall has reiterated Labour’s opposition to school profiling and has called on the Minister for Education to appear before the special Covid Committee this week to address concerns over predictive grading for this year’s Leaving Cert students.

State examinations were cancelled earlier this year when it became clear no exams could take place in the midst of the pandemic, in light of restrictions and the fact the students had been out of school classes since March. Both the Irish and UK governments announced that predictive grades would replace exam results for this year’s Leaving Cert and A Level students.

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However, there has been outcry in the UK in recent weeks, with A-level results coming in for criticism after 42% of grades were found to be lower than teacher assessments. They had been processed by a algorithmic data. Pupils in Scotland have already had their results revised after the initial results were delivered, with students in England, Wales and Nothern Ireland now to follow suit.

In a statement, Councillor Hall says she and her Drogheda-based Labour colleagues Pio Smith and Elaine McGinty, of Meath County Council, are calling for more clarity for students. She has added her voice to calls for Minister Foley to appear before the special Covid committee.

“After the mess that has happened across the UK over predictive grading, students in Ireland need certainty over how they will be awarded grades for their Leaving Cert. The Labour Party is against school profiling and we want it scrapped from the predictive ‘calculated grades’ model that is being used,” she said.

“I am backing the calls for the Minister for Education to appear before the special Oireachtas Covid committee to address concerns about the model that will be used, and we need more information about how the Department plan to avoid the problems we’ve seen in Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland. We need to hear from the Minister instead of relying on press releases issued late on a Friday evening.

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Cllr Hall said that in Scotland students in poorer areas were marked down, highlighting issues with school profiling.

“In Scotland we saw the marks of students in the poorest areas marked down when exam results were released highlighting the problems with school profiling when it comes to grading this year’s estimated grade Leaving Cert. The Labour Party is extremely concerned that the use of school profiling in the predictive grading process this year will unfairly and negatively impact hard working students from disadvantaged schools. We’ve seen the impact of that in the UK,” she said.

“For many students, the Leaving Cert will be their only chance to break out of disadvantage, and with the anonymity of the exam now gone, it is fundamentally unfair that students may not be able to realise their full potential because of this year’s arrangements. Minister Foley needs to ensure that this is not taken away from them.

The Labour Cllr highlighted that the the Department of Education website states that ‘estimated marks from each school will be adjusted to bring them into line with the expected distribution.’

The website reads; ‘The teachers’ estimated marks from each school will be adjusted to bring them into line with the expected distribution for the school. The national standardisation process being used will not impose any predetermined score on any individual in a class or a school. Each school’s expected distributions will be arrived at from the statistical analysis of all the historic Department datasets. These data sets allow the production of good calculations of the distributions of marks to be expected for each school and nationally.

“This means that students from poorer backgrounds will have their grades marked down compared to their peers in more affluent areas,” she continued. “In light of the chaos experienced by students in the UK, I am calling on the Minister to compel her officials to remove any potential for school profiling from this year’s arrangements and to make sure students are assessed on merit and not by postcode. She also must now publicly address the concerns being raised.”

In a statement made on Tuesday afternoon, after this article was first published, a spokesperson for the Department of Education said:

“Minister Foley is aware of the developments that have taken place [on Monday] and over recent days in the UK in respect of calculated A-Levels, and has reiterated her commitment to ensuring that the calculated grades system that is being developed and implemented in Ireland will treat students fairly and equitably.”

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