Leaving Cert oral exams set to move to Easter holidays due to teacher supply ‘crisis’

Schools unable to release teachers during term time to work as examiners

Leaving Cert oral exams for up to 60,000 students look set to be moved to the first week of the Easter holidays to ease what schools describe as a “crisis” in teacher supply.

In normal times, Leaving Cert oral and music exams are conducted during term time.

However, The Irish Times understands plans are being finalised to hold oral exams in Irish and modern languages, along with practical performance tests in music, from Thursday, April 7th to Friday, April 15th.

This would see exams taking place at weekends and over the first week of the Easter holidays.

The proposal has been explored with school managers and teachers’ unions and a final plan is due to be discussed at a meeting of education partners on Monday. If signed off, an announcement is due shortly.

The move is being planned due to the volume of teachers absent on sick leave or self-isolating due to Covid-19.

Many post-primary schools are struggling to find sufficient staff to teach and supervise classes and would not be able release teachers to work as examiners during term time.

Under the plans, Junior Cycle oral exams and practical performance tests in music and home economics would continue to take place during term time.

It is understood that enhanced payment rates for teachers who opt to work as examiners are also being explored.

Even in pre-Covid years, the State Examinations Commission (SEC) has struggled to find enough applicants for the positions of examiners across all modes of assessment including the oral and practical exams.

One potential logistical obstacle involves music teachers who often play accompaniment with their students for the practical performance exams, and may have difficulty making themselves available.

However, education sources say this could be addressed through flexible scheduling.

Last year, oral exams were held during the Easter holiday period for the first time in a move aimed at mitigating the risks of Covid-19.

Under that contingency model, oral exams were carried out by a teacher appointed by the school and audio-recorded. The recordings were returned to the SEC for marking by examiners.

However, the plan for next year is to return to normal oral exams conducted by visiting examiners.

The Irish Times reported last month that the idea of using the Easter holidays for oral exams was being explored in light of teacher shortages.

In a statement at the time, the State Examinations Commission (SEC) said the timetables and schedules for the 2022 examinations were still being developed.

It said it would be the subject of consultation and engagement with stakeholders with the “views of all being considered while having regard for the prevailing circumstances and public health advice”

It added: “The health and safety of candidates, school staff and examiners will be at the forefront of these considerations.”

The SEC says it relies on the co-operation of school leaders and staff for the successful delivery of these tests.

“The SEC needs suitably qualified teachers to apply for examining positions in sufficient numbers. In addition, the SEC needs school leaders, principals and deputy principals to encourage their teachers to apply and to release them from their teaching duties if they are successful in their applications,” it said.

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