The State Examinations Commission has issued guidelines to schools advising that masks will now be a requirement during the Leaving Certificate oral exams, which begin on Friday. 

Minister for Education Norma Foley said it was important that both students and staff feel confident doing the oral examinations this year. 

In a statement, the Minister said that in addition to clear public health advice issued last week, the SEC has introduced a requirement for both interviewer and candidate to wear face masks during the entirety of the oral exam, except in cases where students are already exempted from wearing masks. 

The new guidance follows expressions of concern by a number of teachers and students around the country who said the non-wearing of masks would be in breach of public health and safety. 

The wearing of masks will be in addition to the measures already in place which include the use of social distancing, perspex screens, ventilation and cleaning and sanitation. 

Last week, the State Examinations Commission had issued guidance stating that the wearing of masks was not appropriate for either the interviewer or the candidate during the oral exams.

However, in a circular to schools this afternoon the SEC said it was reversing that decision. 

"In recent days significant levels of concern were raised by teachers who had indicated their intention to carry out the oral interviews. The State Examinations Commission has carefully considered those concerns and reflected on the approach for the oral interviews." 

The SEC added that all of the control measures contained in the guidance published last week were informed by public health advice. 

The circular reiterated that schools are responsible for testing the recordings before submitting them to the SEC for marking. 

"However, in light of the new requirement to wear face masks, schools are now required to test the quality of each individual recording in advance of submission to ensure that each individual recording is of sufficient and satisfactory quality to be marked by the SEC, including that the voices of the interviewer and the candidate are not muffled.

"The testing of each individual recording must involve the school listening to a sufficient portion of the recording to satisfy themselves that the quality of that particular recording is satisfactory. This must be carried out either by the Examination Aide or the school principal. Where the recording is not audible, the candidate should be recalled for re-interview before submitting recorded material to the SEC."

The SEC said the change has been made to ensure the full confidence of teachers and candidates.

While not strictly required under public health advice, it said said the concerns raised can be met through this additional measure.

Don Myers of the Catholic Secondary Schools Parents Association, which represents parents at half of all secondary schools, has welcomed the decision that students should wear masks for their oral exams.

Speaking on RTÉ's Drivetime, he said from a safety point of view it is the right decision and it did not make sense to say they were going to put a perspex screen between them.