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The Association of High School Principals urged the Education Ministry yesterday to cancel the winter matriculation exams, due to the ongoing high school teachers' strike.

"If the strike doesn't end today or tomorrow, we won't be able to prepare the students for the exams," said Dr. Arye Locker, who heads the association.

The exams are supposed to begin in early January. On November 1, the state asked the National Labor Court to issue back-to-work orders requiring teachers to prepare students for the exams, though not to do any other teaching. However, at the court's insistence, it agreed to put its request on hold for two weeks to allow negotiations to continue.

Thus far, these talks have produced nothing but mutual recriminations by the government and the Secondary School Teachers Association over the lack of progress. The parties are due to meet again today, but neither expects a breakthrough.

The strike, which also affects some junior highs, enters its 30th day today.

Locker said that SSTA sanctions disrupted studies last year, "and the strike means that this year studies have effectively not even begun. The matriculation exams require serious preparation by both teacher and student, and certainly the weaker students can't sit for the exams without the teachers' help. We don't have enough time to prepare the students, and the Finance and Education ministries must understand this."

In response, the Education Ministry said: "We hope that the strike will end promptly, and students will be able to take the exams."

Registration for the winter exams - which are optional, as students can take all the exams in the summer - closes in a few days. In previous years, some 146,000 11th- and 12th-graders have taken the winter exams each year.

Also yesterday, the treasury asked the Labor Court to schedule another hearing on its request for back-to-work orders. However, the court will decide whether to do so only sometime after noon on Thursday - the deadline it has given both sides to submit progress reports on the talks. And even then, it implied that it might not do so unless the SSTA agreed.