Billy Ryle: Grade Inflation Shows As Kerry Students Receive CAO Offers

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Unprecedented grades inflation increases CAO points requirements, but Kerry’s applicants sweep up a copious supply of college offers in Round One says Billy Ryle…

The record-high Leaving Cert grades have caused a dramatic increase in points requirements for many third level courses for the second consecutive year.

There was an overall average grades inflation of 2.6% this year on top of last year’s 4.4%. More significantly, the percentage of high grades awarded has substantially risen on last year.

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For example, the H1 grades in Higher Mathematics, Higher Accounting and Higher History increased by 6.5%, 8% and 7.2%, respectively. That trend ran right across higher-level subjects.

4,650 extra college places were on offer this year to cater for the record number of CAO applications, in an attempt to keep points down.

However, the extra places had minimal impact as this year’s very generous grades have accelerated the upward spiral in points.

A record 84,874 applications to CAO, up from 78,336 in 2020, meant increased demand across many courses.

The points for almost 75% of courses at Level 8 (Honours Bachelor Degree) and about 67% at Level 7/Level 6 (Ordinary Bachelor Degree/Higher Certificate) have increased.

While the majority of the 48,068 applicants to the CAO from the 2021 Leaving Cert class will have the points to meet the course requirements, it will leave many candidates who are presenting previous years’ Leaving Cert results struggling to secure a college place.

Many of these innocent casualties of the dual grades process had little or no chance of competing with this year’s grades’ inflation, with a number of courses not able to facilitate applicants on the maximum 625 points.

Indeed, it’s very likely that a considerable number of students with 600 or more points have missed on first preference courses.

Kerry’s 1,806 Leaving Cert candidates achieved outstanding results that paved the path to college. They swept up a copious supply of offers in Tuesday’s CAO Round One offers.

After a nerve-wracking weekend, there was unconfined joy as a large majority of Kerry’s CAO applicants received a college offer. On a pro rata population basis, Kerry’s CAO applicants will be close to the top of the class in securing college places.

55,221 CAO applicants received at least one of the 82,175 courses on offer on Tuesday afternoon. The offers consisted of 49,358 at Level 8 and 32,817 at Level7/Level 6.

Offers are issued independently in respect of the two lists (Level 8 and Level 7/Level 6), so that 26,954 applicants received two offers, one from each list.

The collective good news is that 39,063 (79%) of the 49,358 applicants, who were offered a Level 8 course, received one of their top three preferences.

A phenomenal 32,314 (98%) of the 32,817, who were offered a Level 7/Level 6 course also received one of their top three preferences. So, despite the huge increase in points, the 2021 Class has delivered the goods.

The overriding conclusion from the points’ trends is that CAO applicants were totally focussed on the jobs market.

They applied in large numbers for courses with strong employment growth. UCC’s flagship Biological and Chemical Sciences degree hit the heady heights of 555* points, up 45 points while UL’s Physiotherapy degree jumped from 589* last year to 613* this year.

UCC’s Biological & Earth Science Degree increased from 467 to 500. A number of courses crashed the 600 points’ barrier with NUIG’s Occupational Therapy degree on 601.

As expected, the contribution of frontline workers during the Coronavirus pandemic inspired a massive swing to health science courses which invariably rocketed out of reach of most CAO applicants.

Dentistry at UCC, for example, requires a staggering 625* points this year – a perfect Leaving Cert exam result! Pharmacy, Physiotherapy, Medicine, Veterinary, Nursing and related health sciences were beyond the reach of many applicants.

School leavers continue to rush to college in unprecedented numbers. The steady flow also of mature and non-traditional applications is a very healthy development as everybody deserves a second chance.

A quota of places was reserved by CAO for the 10,164 mature applicants and the 13,147 applicants from the PLC sector.


• 61125 Leaving Cert candidates in total – 57952 LC Established & 3173 LC Applied
• 1806 Leaving Cert candidates in Kerry – 1700 LC Established & 106 LC Applied
• 84874 CAO applications in 2021; up from 78336 in 2020
• Leaving Cert results in Kerry were excellent
• Kerry’s CAO applicants did extremely well in Tuesday’s Round One offers
• An applicant was offered the highest course preference to which s/he was entitled
• When an applicant was offered a course preference, s/he was excluded from any course preference lower than the one offered.
• In the second or subsequent rounds of offers, an applicant won’t be considered for a preference lower than that already offered.
• An applicant who was offered a preference, which is not her/his first preference, may subsequently be offered a higher preference
• It’s not necessary to accept an offer in order to be considered for a higher preference
• An applicant who has accepted an offer is not obliged to accept any subsequent offer
• CAO vacant place facility opened at noon on Wed., 8th Sept.
• Appeal application against an awarded grade(s) opens at 9am, Sat., 11th Sept.
• Appeal application against an awarded grade(s) closes at 12pm, Mon., 13th Sept.
• Accept CAO Round One offer by 3pm, Mon., 13th Sept.

Billy Ryle is a Career Guidance Counsellor and Educational Commentator

One Comment

  1. Matty O'Leary says:

    Shocking – the flawed but balanced grading system has been totally transformed trashed.