Ireland Links

Links on Grade Inflation in the Republic of Ireland

A list of Web-based reports and commentaries on Grade Inflation in the Republic of Ireland with URL addresses, brief descriptions and selected excerpts.

Click on the title to be taken to the webpage.

NOTE: Some links may be to subscription only sites – if you or your institution do not subscribe to the source you may be unable to access the document.

Forfas YES Submission – Click Here

A submission to the Irish Department of Education and Science’s ‘Your Education System’ review by the state agency in Ireland responsible for promoting enterprise on the state of our education system (September 2004)


“There is a significant body of opinion, both in the enterprise community and among academics that standards have declined in the Irish education system over the past decade, both at second and third level. Empirical evidence to support this perception is contained in an earlier submission to the YES review. This decline has occurred despite the fact that the distribution of grades has remained roughly constant over this time through the phenomenon known as “Grade Inflation.” This trend must be strongly countered.” (p3)

Grade Inflation in HETAC Awards – Click Here


O’Grady, M., Guilfoyle, B., Galvin, M., Quinn, S., & Cleary, J., Grade Inflation in HETAC Awards, Submission to the Your Educational System Review, June 18, 2004. A brief commentary on the dangers of grade inflation and a statistical analysis of grade inflation in awards made by HETAC in Ireland between 1998-2002 submitted to the Irish Department of Education and Science’s ‘Your Education System’ review.


“There has been significant grade inflation in HETAC awards in the period studied – from 1998-2002. This problem also exists in the University sector. Grade inflation at third level has occurred against a backdrop of grade inflation at Leaving Certificate Level and a drop in the minimum entry requirement for third level courses. The net effect is that weaker students are entering third level courses and yet are attaining higher grades”

Graduate results getting better, says HEA

Irish Times, Monday, August 14, 2006 by John Downes. An article about grade inflation in Irish Universities.


“In a finding likely to prompt concerns that Irish universities may be “dumbing down”, the figures for 2004 also reveal the percentage of first-class and upper second-class honour degrees awarded to undergraduate students has increased since 1998 in each university.
For example, the number of graduating students awarded a first at DCU has increased by some 10 per cent since 1998, mirroring a trend witnessed at second level in recent years.”

If Nobody Fails the Exam the Qualification is Meaningless


Posted in Sunday Times Columns, Irish Society. Sarah Carey discusses grade inflation in the Leaving Certificate.


“A Department of Education spokeswoman defending the mysteriously improved results last week said there had been “substantial curricular reform in the past 10 to 15 years”. She added that “the exams had become more accessible and student-friendly in design and format”. Student-friendly? Accessible? Aren’t these just euphemisms for easier?”

Dumbing down fear as exam points soar


John Walshe, Irish Independent, May 22, 2006. Dumbing down’ fear as exam points soar; Figures show big improvement in Leaving Certificate results. An article by the education correspondent on the steady upward trend in Leaving Certificate grades and the concerns of Dr Edward Walsh (former President of UL and former Chairman of the Curriculum and examinations Board) and Dr Kevin Williams of the Mater Dei Institute that this may be due to grade inflation.


“….three times as many students now are getting at least 450 points compared with the early 1990s.”


“At the other end of the scale, the change is equally startling with the percentage getting less than 100 points dropping from 23.2pc to 11.7pc. The statistics have raised fears in some quarters of a policy of marking papers easier than in the past.”


“Dr Edward Walsh, former University of Limerick president, said there was ‘good reason to question whether some subjects have been dumbed down’.”


“Another expert, Dr Kevin Williams from the Mater Dei Institute, suggested that examiners have become more generous since the opening of marked scripts to candidates and introduction of the appeals system.”

Controversial maths exam deemed fair

Isabel Hayes, Controversial maths exam deemed fair, Sunday Tribune, 22 August 2004. An article on the response of an NUI Galway academic to widespread allegations that a 2006 Leaving Certificate Higher Level mathematics paper was unfair because it contained elements that students found unexpected


“Dr Rachel Quinlan of NUI Galway, who studied the exam paper, said no one could argue that the controversial trigonometry question in Paper II, which caused such outrage, contained elements not covered by the syllabus.”


“Teachers said the paper was designed to put those who had learned from grindschool notes at a disadvantage over those who were able to employ independent mathematical reasoning.”

Is our education system putting out Yeats’s fire?


Eddie Holt, Is our education system putting out Yeats’s fire? Irish Times, Aug 26 2006. A commentary on the danger of less competition for third level places leading to a further lowering of educational stadards


“The points race is apparently finished for most Leaving Certificate students.”


“Overall standards are likely to slip still further.”


“Teachers will tell you that the various Leaving Cert syllabuses have been steadily dumbed down.”


“But the dumbing-down reflects changes in society here, not least the rise of PR and the “unacceptability” of “failure”.”


“A bachelor’s degree has become devalued because so many people have one and there’s a sense that “real” university work doesn’t begin until post-graduate standard.”

Exam ‘dumbing down’ fears as more get Leaving honours

Exam ‘dumbing down’ fears as more get Leaving honours, Irish Times, Sept 26, 2006. An article pointing out fears about grade inflation in the Leaving Certificate.


“The number of students gaining honours in the Leaving Cert has increased dramatically, sparking concerns that the exam is much less demanding than a decade ago, writes Seán Flynn, Education Editor.”


“Figures from the State Exams Commission show an increase of up to 16 per cent in the numbers gaining honours in higher-level papers over the past decade.”
“Last night a leading educationalist, Tom Kellaghan of the education research centre, St Patrick’s College, Dublin, said exam papers were now being marked much less harshly. Overall standards in most subjects were declining, he said…”


“In further reaction, in an article in today’s Irish Times, Brendan Butler of the employers’ group Ibec expresses serious concern about the fall-off in maths.”

We must beware of third-level dumbing down


Garrett Fitzgerald, We must beware of third-level dumbing down, Irish Times Sept 26, 2004. An article by the Chancellor of the NUI and former Taoiseach, pointing to grade inflation in the UK higher education sector and the danger that Ireland will follow


“What is less clear is that threats to the present strengths of our system, some of them quite subtle, are equally well understood by Government.”


“One of these threats derives from pressure to follow Britain’s disastrous mistake in “dumbing down” higher education by diluting standards. Pressure in favour of this exists here both within the system itself – due to some competitive factors – but also externally from the political system, which tends to seek increases in the output of higher education while holding back on the resources needed to secure such an outcome.”


“The lesson of recent British experience is before us. For, even in the better universities in Britain there has been considerable “grade inflation” involving an unjustified expansion of the number of first-class honours or other good degrees which has served to weaken business confidence in the system. Irish universities receiving applications for academic posts have had to start to concern themselves with the quality of the PhDs awarded to some British aspirants to Irish posts.”


“Unfortunately there has been little or no serious debate on these important issues.”

Reforming the Leaving Cert


Reforming the Leaving Cert, Editorial, Irish Times, June 7, 2006. An editorial arguing the need for reform of the Leaving Certiciate examination.


“For all that, it has been clear for some time that the Leaving Cert is in need of reform. In today’s article, Mr Ahern points to the key weakness of the exam – its emphasis on rote learning.”


“The problem is particularly acute in maths. A recent report from maths teachers at third level pointed to the lack of understanding of basic maths among a huge number of students, many of whom had achieved very good grades at higher level in the Leaving Cert exam.”


“The chief examiner in maths from the State Exams Commission has also pointed to a disturbing pattern, where students memorise a huge volume of information but often lack the capacity to analyse it in any meaningful way”

Room for improvement in a first-class exam


Room for improvement in a first-class exam, Irish Times, June 7, 2006. An article by the Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, pointing out the need for reform in the Leaving Cert examination to move the emphasis from rote learning to critical thinking skills and practical activities.


“I know from when my own girls were studying for the Leaving Cert a few years ago that there is still an awful lot of rote learning involved, and this is something that I think we need to look at.”


“It is important to find the right balance between being able to remember a lot of information and being able to analyse what you know, and to develop independent research and critical thinking skills.
Being able to question why things are done a particular way, and to suggest an alternative solution, are such important skills in any job – my own included!”

Masterclass students set new record for grades

John Walshe & Catherine Donnelly, Masterclass students set new record for grades, Irish Independent, August 16, 2006. A report on the the fourteenth successive year in which grades have improved in the Leaving Certificate.


“….the percentage of students getting 450 points or more has increased for the 14th year in a row. This year 17.7pc of students got at least 450 points – the equivalent of six B3s on higher level papers – compared with only 6.2pc in 1992.”


“The figures show the steady increase in the top grades has been matched by a decline in the percentage of students getting 100 or fewer points which has been exactly halved since 1992.”
“The proportion has dropped from 23.2pc to 11.6pc this year.”


“However, one subject – higher level maths – saw a drop in A1 grades from 7.9pc to 6.5pc. Teachers last night blamed this on a particularly tricky question on this year’s paper.”

Employers lash out at the text generation


Employers lash out at the text generation, Many students are failures in the world of work, claims IBEC, Irish Independent, August 17, 2006. A report on claims from the voice of Irish big business, IBEC, that despite record educational grades many young workers do not make good workers


“Too many of the so-called text generation have little interest in learning on the job, they take no pride in their work and they struggle to turn up on time.”


“Employers’ group IBEC made the claims on the day that record grades were awarded in the Leaving Certificate…..”