Education authorities are still seeking teachers to work as examiners just weeks ahead of the start of the Leaving Cert oral exams due to a shortage of applicants.
Thousands of students are set to take their oral exams in Irish, French, German, Italian and Spanish between March 25th and April 5th.
While the initial closing date for the recruitment of examiners was on December 7th, the State Examinations Commission (SEC) has confirmed that it is running an extended recruitment drive due to a shortage of applicants.
In a statement the commission said it is likely to accept applicants right up to the commencement of the tests.
It added that is has been forced to take similar steps in recent years to ensure there are sufficient numbers of qualified teachers.
“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 enabled the oral tests to be conducted as scheduled,” it said.
“As the recruitment process is ongoing it is not possible to provide details of applicant or appointment numbers at this time.”
Secondary schools are more reluctant to let teachers go because of the shortage of substitutes...but if they don't the system collapses
Teachers’ unions have predicted that shortages of examiners for oral exams will grow due to a reluctance on the part of schools to release teachers given the difficulties finding qualified substitutes.
There is also a general shortage of qualified teachers in key subjects such as Irish and modern languages.
“It’s a problem that is growing,” said one union source. “There is the pay issue. Secondary schools are more reluctant to let teachers go because of the shortage of substitutes...but if they don’t the system collapses.”
Some union and school management bodies have suggested that the exams should be held during the Easter break, which could make it easier to source teachers. However, this would likely have additional cost implications for the exchequer due to holiday pay.
In the meantime, the commission says it is reliant on the co-operation of schools and school staff to deliver the tests during the school term.
"Firstly, the State Examination Commission needs suitably-qualified teachers to apply for these positions in sufficient numbers," the commission said.
“Secondly, 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.”
The SEC said teachers who work as examiners have the opportunity to accrue benefits for their professional development in delivering the curriculum.
Unions have also warned that shortages of examiners for the written exams will continue unless pay rates for correcting exams is increased.
Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) delegates voted unanimously at its last annual convention for a 30 per cent increase in rates of pay for marking exams.
It said payments to examiners for marking individual exam papers ranged from just over €4 to just over €32, depending on the subject and length of the exam.
However, teachers at the convention said their take-home pay amounted to “blood money” because tax hikes meant it was less than half of these rates.
The SEC and teachers’ unions have commenced talks over the pay claim, though sources say there is unlikely to be progress on this in the short-term.