Over the last few years, myself and some colleagues at IT Tralee have been raising the question of standards in the Irish education system. Our main activity has been to collect data of award levels, analyse this data and publicise our conclusions. The papers are available on the website of the Network for Irish Educational Standards and the Network has recently started an educational standards blog.

Our dataset, collected by dint of Herculean efforts by Martin O'Grady, we also make freely available, in an attempt to foster an informed debate.

We conclude, through analysis of the data, discussion of sociological factors and case studies, that educational standards in Ireland have been declining in all sectors of the system. While these conclusions couldn't be more obvious to those actually doing the teaching and examining, the higher one goes up the academic hierarchy, the more controversial they are being viewed.

For example, many third level institutions are now refusing to release grade data on the grounds that they disagree with our "public pronouncements". We also provoked the ire of DCU President, Prof. Ferdinand von Prondzynski, who lambasted us in a post to his blog.

In the long-run, however, the head-in-the-sand attitude will have to be replaced by a somewhat more pragmatic attitude, as evidenced, for example, by the Royal Irish Academy position paper on Science.

My most recent paper New Metrics for Detecting Changes in Educational Standards considers the problem of detecting declining standards from grade distributions by changes in mean, skewness and standard deviation. This approach can be applied to any set of grades and is applied to the Irish education system at second and third level. The conclusions are pretty predictable: however you cut it, standards have indeed declined over the last decade and a half.