The Government came under fire at the ASTI conference for not living up to a commitment to deal with the issue of large classes, with delegates claiming that the 12-19 age group was getting a raw deal.
According to research carried out on behalf of the ASTI, two-thirds of third-year students are regularly in classes of 25 or more, with 16% in classes of at least 30.
Following a lengthy debate the conference unanimously passed a motion from the Carbery, Co Cork, branch, calling for a maximum class size of 20.
Lily Cronin, Kerry, said a 20:1 pupil-teacher ratio was necessary for the integration of special needs students; for accommodating non-nationals with poor English and for implementing the practical side of new curricula in science and other subjects.
“New methodologies in education cannot work unless we have smaller class sizes,” said Ms Cronin.
The issue of disruptive pupils, aired by several delegates, was described by Seamus Horan, Dublin North East, as a “vocal but substantial minority wishing to hijack classrooms for their own selfish ends”.
He claimed the problem of disruptive students was greater than the problem of bad teachers. He also said such students were forcing some teachers to retire before the age of 60, even though such teachers still had a great deal to offer.
“These students are engaged in bullying and are preventing teachers from teaching and students from learning,” said Mr Horan.
Some delegates called for a switch in emphasis from the rights of the minority of disruptive students to the rights of the majority that wanted to learn.
“The right of teachers to teach and students to learn must be the number one right,” stated former ASTI president Susie Hall.
She also said each school should have a room, or unit, with a qualified person in charge, where disruptive students should be given time out so that the rest of the class could get on with learning.
Ms Hall felt such a room should not be seen as a sin bin, but as a place where whatever conflict or anger was troubling a student could be dealt with in a professional way.
A Drogheda motion called on the ASTI to negotiate with the Department of Education an amendment to the law which would put an emphasis on the rights of the majority of students and of the teacher.
However, ASTI general secretary John White told conference that Education Minister Mary Hanafin had already agreed to amend section 29 of the Education Act.
Mr White said a key amendment was that the education of other students would have to be taken into account when appeals on behalf of disruptive pupils were being dealt with.
Meanwhile, Ms Hanafin last evening said there was “no likelihood” of meeting secondary teachers’ demands for a maximum, 20-pupil class size.
But, she said the Government remained committed to an overall reduction in class size — one of the most vexed issues in education.