The ‘fiasco factory’ – Opposition TDs round on Government as Eamon Ryan offers timeline of Leaving Cert grades chaos

The ‘fiasco factory’ – Opposition TDs round on Government as Eamon Ryan offers timeline of Leaving Cert grades chaos

01/10/2020 17:45:00

The ‘fiasco factory’ – Opposition TDs round on Government as Eamon Ryan offers timeline of Leaving Cert grades chaos

There was no intention to keep anyone in the dark about problems with the Leaving Cert coding errors, Green Party leader Eamon Ryan has told the Dáil as the Government was denounced as a “fiasco factory”.

But Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire, Sinn Féin spokesman on Education, told him: “People were kept in the dark – and for over a week. There was a meeting of the Cabinet and it wasn’t discussed. I can’t make head nor tail of it. Surely such an important matter should be discussed.”

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Mr Ryan said the Government was still assessing the scale and implications of the problem at the time.The calculated-grades crisis now engulfing the Government arose when a person running the code for the Applied Leaving Cert saw a slight variation in expected results, Mr Ryan said.

The unnamed architect of the algorithm previously worked with Education Canada and had specific experience with the Irish education system, he said.“On seeing the variation that occurred, they contacted the Department of Education late on Tuesday week last. The Minister for Education and the Taoiseach were only informed on Wednesday morning that there was a difficulty,” he said.

The CAO (Central Applications Office) then issued its second round of offers on that day, “because it wasn't clear that this was going to happen or the effect it would have on the CAO process.”Mr Ryan had learned of it on the Friday, when it was still a complex issue under investigation, and the three Coalition leaders had discussed it at length last Monday, he said. There was to have been a press conference at 4pm on Wednesday, but the matter had first arisen in the Dáil.

Mr Ryan said his understanding as to why the calculated grades error was not noticed was because “actually the predicted results were very close to what was going to be expected.”There was a variance from historic result patterns “by about 4 per cent,” he told the Dáil, “and all the analysis that have been done by all those different tiers of State expertise and officials came to the conclusion that that actually was roughly what we'd expect.”

He said: “There wasn't any other variation that would in any way indicate that this coding error had been made,” and that the system was wrongly counting the bottom two of the Junior Cert results, rather than the top next two after a student’s scores in English, Irish and Maths.

“When the person who actually was responsible for that (system) was themselves running the Applied Leaving Cert results, there was a variation that he couldn't quite understand,” Mr Ryan said.“He then went and looked right through the 50,000 coding lines of code - and I suppose he had certain expertise having written a lot of it - to actually find out what that was. And he reported back.

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“The variation was not categorised in any one area, or any one school, or in any one subject. It didn't actually lead to a significant change from what results otherwise would be still appropriate.”But he pledged: “We will make sure there is no student who will be disadvantaged and that they are able to get the course that they should have got.”

Mr Ó Laoghaire said the Government decided on this model and had hired the company. “This smacks of serious incompetence,” he said.He added that the Minister had not explained why it was not raised at Cabinet on Tuesday, with the Higher Education Authority only learning of the mess yesterday.

Mr Ryan said the three-leader meeting had decided to allow Education Minister Norma Foley and Third Level Minister Simon Harris to continue to investigate the situation.Mr Ó Laoghaire said students were entitled to expect standards in the Department of Education and in the Government that matched their own.

They had instead seen an “extraordinary mess”, he said, while the events of the last week had offered a striking lack of clarity of who knew what and when.“This is not academic. This affects the lives of students. It is likely there are 1,000 students who have missed out from courses due to these errors,” he said.

“The minister is saying it will be a few days before the full numbers are known. Many will have taken off lower-choice courses in cities and counties. They will have paid registration fees and they will have paid deposits to landlords. They don’t know whether they are coming or going.”

Peadar Tóibín, Aontú TD for Meath West, said the predicted grades was a “dog’s dinner” and the latest piece of chaos from the “fiasco factory” that is Government.Extra places were going to be created for students in a third-level sector that is “already on its knees, with a €500 million funding deficit”, he said.

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Mr Tóibín said that many students would be left in limbo, and that this would lead to new legal challenges.Minster Ryan said the Government was ultimately responsible but that officials had done their best in a really difficult situation.He said that the work now is “to address an error that is unfortunate. It was recognised by the person involved.”

But Mr Tóibín said the Minister would be taking questions on the issue at 9pm, “in the graveyard shift”, with the Government appearing to hope that many TDs would have already headed for the hills.“That doesn’t look like a Government with its hands up,” he said.

Read more: Independent.ie »

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