Fr Paul O’Connell, president of the Joint Managerial Body, which represents management of 380 religious-owned second-level schools, has called for a major review of the timing of oral exams.
This year’s Leaving Certificate orals, in Irish and in other language subjects, took place during the middle two weeks of April, beginning just after schools reopened, following Easter holidays.
They coincided with practical tests for students of music, and with Junior Certificate practicals for music and home economics.
These tests require teachers to be hired by the State Examinations Commission (SEC) to examine students at other schools. Because of rising numbers of students and difficulty recruiting examiners, some teachers on these duties could be absent from their own schools for most or all of a fortnight.
Students doing the Leaving Certificate Applied programme will undergo oral exams the week after next, and late orals may be conducted at some schools the following week.
Fr O’Connell said the amount of teaching time lost by students, due to their teachers’ absence, is no longer sustainable.
“The method of delivery and timing of the oral examinations needs to be reviewed urgently,” he told Education Minister Richard Bruton at the JMB’s annual conference in Galway.
He recounted having nine teachers absent one Monday morning last month due to staff oral exams or practical tests.
On the same day, he and both deputy principals at his Co Kildare school were on mandatory training courses.
“A Leaving Certificate parent rang in to say he had great difficulty in getting his daughter to come to school that day, given the level of teacher absence,” said Fr O’Connell.
“To my mortification, I discovered that she was about to miss seven out of her eight teachers that day.”
He also raised concerns about the increasing time teachers will have to spend outside the classroom in the next few years, on work associated with expansion of the junior cycle.
As well as schools not receiving extra teaching allocations that entirely match the reduced hours teachers spend in class, further complications arise from the scheduling of related meetings.
Teachers of subjects that are to be reformed on a staggered basis must meet for two hours annually to discuss standards of feedback to students. This practice is known as subject learning and assessment review (SLARs).
Fr O’Connell said it is not feasible for schools to start a very large number of SLARs during school hours.
“The consequent loss of tuition time is unfair to pupils,” he said. “The headache of providing cover for absent teachers will become impossible for management.
“And, finally, given that teachers have already been allocated 22 hours [a year] for planning, it is extremely hard to justify interfering with pupil tuition time.”
Fr O’Connell repeated a previous call for the release of Leaving Certificate results to be delayed for a few days. This would save students waiting on college offers from the Central Applications Office the anxiety of not knowing if their grades are enough to get into the third-level course they want.