Education Ministry officials are working on a plan to help students prepare for winter matriculation exams when school resumes - following the back-to-work orders issued against striking secondary school teachers this week - after the Hanukkah holiday.

The plan centers on students in grades 11 and 12, and includes marathon study sessions after school hours and taking into account last year's grades in calculating the annual magen grade.

On Thursday, the education and finance ministries petitioned the National Labor Court to compel teachers in the Arab sector to return to work now, rather than on December 13 as the court ruled earlier this week as Arab pupils are scheduled to go on vacation December 18 for the period covering Muslim, Christian and Druze holidays.

Meanwhile, a growing number of teacher committees at schools across the country have announced that they will not comply with the back-to-work orders.

According to the student-aid plan being formulated, afternoon tutorials will begin in the days immediately following the resumption of studies and will focus on subjects for the winter matriculation exams. Another possibility being considered is to hold the marathon tutorials during school, at the expense of other subjects, or to hold them on the Fridays remaining before the exams begin.

According to the Education Ministry's director-general, Shlomit Amihai, one of the issues being discussed in meetings with the Secondary School Teachers Association is whether teachers would agree to conduct these study sessions, and under what terms.

In addition, the ministry in inclined to instruct schools that the magen grade, which is supposed to reflect a student's achievements throughout the year, rely heavily on grades from last year as students have only had 20 actual days in school this academic year.

Amihai said that some 800 schools have ordered exam forms for the winter matriculations, but that "the final decision on whether students will sit for the exams belongs to the school principal."

The exams, which are open to grades 11 and 12 and pupils at matriculation-only schools, begin January 2 and end about a month later. In previous years, 146,000 teenagers took the winter exams, which are given in compulsory subjects such as mathematics, English, history and Bible.

Amihai added that the ministry is also considering instructing schools to hold special assemblies when students return to school December 13.

Currently, teachers at 35 high schools around Israel have already decided not to comply with the court orders. At meetings held in the past few days, some of the teachers decided to make a final decision early next week, after consulting with lawyers on the ramifications of disobeying the orders. A teacher who does not return to work is expected to face various sanctions (ranging from a reprimand up to possible firing) by the local authorities, which are the direct employer of secondary school teachers.

Regarding the possibility that teachers will not return to school, Finance Minister Roni Bar-On said, "I respect teachers to such a degree that I do not believe they will not comply with the court order."

Senior Education Ministry officials plan to hold consultations with representatives of the State Prosecutor's Office early next week to consider how to respond in case teachers violate the court order.