School principals have proposed moving the Leaving Cert oral exams to the Easter holiday period to ease acute pressure on recruiting examiners for key subjects.
The State Examinations Commission has issued a direct appeal to school principals to encourage teachers to apply to work as examiners for the oral and practical exams which take place over a fortnight in April.
Among the subjects where teacher shortages are most acute include Irish, French and German.
The commission needs to hire about 3,000 qualified teachers to assist in the delivery of State oral and practical exams this year, and teacher unions say it will face “extreme difficulty” meeting this target due to reluctance by schools who fear they will not be able to find qualified substitutes if they release their teachers.
The National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals, which has encouraged teachers to apply, has suggested that holding the exams during the Easter holidays would make it easier to find examiners.
The association's director Clive Byrne said such a move would mean schools would not be under pressure to find substitute teachers for those examining for the SEC.
This is because students would have their own teachers prepare them right up to the time of the exam.
It would also avoid the loss of tuition time from the school year for the students, while the SEC would not have to pay for substitution thus saving money and could afford to pay examiners more.
The proposal has also received backing from senior figures within some teachers’ unions.
The State Examinations Commission said it maintains close contact with education partners in terms of supporting the current model of delivery and looking at possible alternatives.
However, it said holding oral and practical exams during the Easter holidays was a very complex issue which raised a range of issues.
It said the Easter holidays coincided with teacher union conferences and a bank holiday, and that schools would have to be opened and managed during this period to facilitate the conduct of the tests.
“For the proposal to be successful it would be necessary for a sufficient number of teachers to make themselves available during their Easter holidays in order to conduct the tests. It is not at all clear that this would be the case,” a spokesman said.
He added that oral tests are currently conducted over a 10-day period, with candidates taking their Irish test during one week and their foreign language test during the second week.
“Consequently school staff would need to be available during the holiday period to deal with the management of the scheduling of tests across Irish and the foreign languages in a significantly shorter period of time, and, separately, to support and provide pastoral care to candidates as they take the tests,” the spokesman said.
Provision of school transport for the exam days falling during the holiday period was another challenge, while there could also be an impact on candidates and their families during a holiday period as details of the actual exam dates for individual candidates can only be provided very close to the time.
To help ease recruitment difficulties, the commission is running an extended recruitment drive, accepting applications beyond the published closing dates, and has made supplementary appeals to teachers to apply for exams work and to school authorities to release staff for the oral and practical examinations.
The commission declined to say how many examiners have so far applied for this year’s exams.
“The SEC continues to accept applications for the oral, practical and written examiners to engage in the delivery of the 2018 state examinations. Consequently, it is not possible to provide details of the numbers of applicants at this time,” a spokesman said.
“The response to our appeals in the past has been generous and the high level of goodwill and co-operation received from school authorities and teachers has always enabled the tests to be conducted as scheduled. We hope that, with the continued co-operation of all of the stakeholders, the coming year will be no different.”