Calls to change dates of Junior and Leaving Cert exams over teacher shortages
Junior and Leaving Cert exams should be staggered from Christmas onwards to tackle a teacher shortage crisis, according to school principals.
An organisation for the secondary school chiefs said all school-based tests including practical and oral exams should be spread out over a longer time-frame from January.
The National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals (NAPDP) said they could also take place during the mid-term and Easter breaks.
"Currently, the oral exams in subjects like French and German, as well as practical exams in home economics and music, all take place around February or March," said Paul Byrne, past president of the NAPDP.
"This means schools can face a very high number of absent teachers who are needed to examine the oral and practical exams on the same days.
"Our proposal is to stagger the exams so they take place over a number of consecutive weeks, allowing teacher absences to be better managed and disruption to tuition time to be kept to a minimum."
The association also told a Dáil committee the Schools Examination Commission could hold training and exam marking conferences on Saturdays rather than weekdays.
This would immediately cut the number of days teachers are absent.
The association told the Joint Committee on Education and Skills that a pool of masters degree student teachers who are readily available to work up to 12 hours a week could also help deal with the shortage.
It called for urgent action on teacher shortages.
The association said other measures that would ease the crisis include free fees for student teachers with qualifications which are particularly difficult to find. The subjects in high demand include Irish, French and German.
Graduates who would benefit from the scheme would then have to commit to work in the Irish education system for a minimum of five years after they graduate.
Director of the association Clive Byrne said the Government should recruit those with masters qualifications.
"One way to incentivise subject areas in short supply is for the State to pay the fees for student teachers at Masters level," he said.
"Fees are high and after four years of an undergraduate degree, two more years studying without an income is very unattractive for students."
He said the fact that accommodation was in short supply and rents were rising was driving down the number of people who were willing or able to qualify as teachers.
He called for a new national state body to monitor teacher supply and a national data base of substitute teachers for primary and secondary schools to be set up.
Mr Byrne said the demand for substitute teachers had grown while the number of qualified teachers had fallen.
"Principals and deputy principals know first-hand the reasons why we're experiencing these shortages," he said.
"These reasons are complicated, but there are a number of measures that can be adopted immediately which would help ease the pressure on schools."