The State Examinations Commission is reviewing whether to continue to holding the Leaving Cert oral exams during the Easter holidays amid growing opposition from students’ representatives and teachers’ unions.
Before the pandemic, the oral language exams were held during school time either before or after the school Easter holidays, depending on how early or late Easter fell.
Exam authorities moved the orals to the holiday period in 2021 for the first time due to acute shortages in sourcing substitute cover due to the numbers of teachers self-isolating or awaiting Covid-19 tests.
The move, which was intended to minimise disruption to students’ education, continued in 2022 and 2023.
However, the Irish Second Level Students’ Union wants the oral exams to revert to normal term-time to give Leaving Cert candidates a much-needed break.
Rather than alleviating pressure on students, it says holding the exams during the holidays is increasing pressure on students, particularly those facing more than one oral exam within a shorter time-frame than used to be the case.
The union says students are also missing out missing out on supports from teachers which are available during the regular school day, which can make it an overwhelming experience for some.
Teachers’ unions and the Irish language teachers’ subject association have endorsed these calls, while a Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) survey of its members found that 84 per cent of respondents agreed with a move back to pre-pandemic norms.
Many school managers and principals, however, are understood to support keeping oral exams during the holiday period as it is less disruptive to students’ education.
It also means schools do not have to source hard-to-find substitute teachers to fill in for staff who opt to conduct the oral exams in other schools.
The State Examinations Commission (SEC) said it is currently conducting an “extensive evaluation” to fully assess the impact of holding the oral examinations at Easter.
As part of this, it has engaged the University of Galway to undertake research to explore parent, student, teacher, examiner and school leadership opinions about the timing of the exams n 2024.
“The research will inform the wider evaluation process currently being undertaken by the SEC to feed into advice to the Minister [for Education] on the timing of the Leaving Certificate oral examinations in the future,” it said.