Teaching ‘crisis’: Leaving Cert oral exams may switch to Easter break

Covid-driven teacher shortage prompts steps including possible return of retired staff

The Joint Managerial Body, the largest school management body at second level, said moving exams to Easter would help schools significantly.  Photograph: Getty Images

The Joint Managerial Body, the largest school management body at second level, said moving exams to Easter would help schools significantly. Photograph: Getty Images

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Leaving Cert oral exams could be moved to the Easter holidays to ease what school managers describe as a “crisis” in teacher supply.

Education sources have confirmed the idea is being examined due to the pressure facing secondary schools as a result of the volume of teachers absent on sick leave or self-isolating due to Covid-19.

Many post-primary schools say they are struggling to find sufficient staff to teach and supervise classes.

The Joint Managerial Body (JMB), the largest school management body at second level, said moving exams to Easter would help schools significantly.

“It would ease pressure on schools because they wouldn’t have to release teachers during term,” said John Curtis, the JMB’s director general.

“The risk of holding the exams during term time is that it will exacerbate problems which are already extant regarding teacher supply.”

Last year, he said, oral exams were successfully held during the Easter holiday period for the first time.

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

It said they 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”.

‘Health and safety’

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

The views of teachers’ unions and students will be crucial in determining when the exams take place next year.

While the Association of Secondary Teachers, Ireland (ASTI) declined to comment, the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) said any decisions must be based on what is in the best interests of students and teachers.

TUI general secretary Michael Gillespie said whatever option is ultimately agreed must give students and their teachers a sufficient break given the pressures they face in the run-up to the exams.

In normal times, Leaving Cert oral exams and practical performance tests in music are conducted in school time, before or after the Easter holidays. Next year’s Easter holidays are due to run from April 11th-22nd.

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.

Set of measures

Meanwhile, The Irish Times understands a series of measures aimed at boosting the supply of substitute teachers for secondary schools is due to be announced shortly.

While Minister for Education Norma Foley announced additional substitutes and access to student teachers for primary schools last week, a separate set of measures is being finalised at second level.

It is understood to include:

- Allowing retired teachers to return to classrooms until the end of the current school term without any reduction in their pension;

- The suspension of continuous professional development courses at second level – where substitution is required – until the mid-term break in February 2022; and

- Enhanced access to student teachers up to Christmas and into January by rescheduling their exams and assessments

The National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals warned last week that many second-level schools were struggling to find enough teachers to provide cover.

It said most schools have managed to avoid sending classes home thanks to the support of the school communities and teachers being willing to go the “extra mile” and cover for colleagues.