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cramped classrooms Students 'forced to sit at desks in doorways to socially distance', ASTI conference hears

Delegates backed a motion calling for a limit of 24 students per class, and up to 20 in practical subjects.

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ASTI president Ann Piggot and general secretary Kieran Christie speaking at the 99th ASTI Remote Annual Convention at their offices in Dublin. Photo: Steve Humphreys

ASTI president Ann Piggot and general secretary Kieran Christie speaking at the 99th ASTI Remote Annual Convention at their offices in Dublin. Photo: Steve Humphreys

ASTI president Ann Piggot and general secretary Kieran Christie speaking at the 99th ASTI Remote Annual Convention at their offices in Dublin. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Secondary school students have been forced to sit at desks in doorways in order to socially distance, a teachers’ conference has been told.

ASTI president Ann Piggott told delegates they “do not have the luxury of large classrooms the size of convention centres”.

“Rooms are cramped, tables are more spread out, but with a teacher, students, and perhaps two special needs assistants, this can generate 33 people in a room where viruses are most probably airborne,” she said.

Over the cold winter, classrooms had little spare space although the staggered restart last month helped ensure classes could use bigger rooms, she said.

Delegates backed a motion calling for a limit of 24 students per class, and up to 20 in practical subjects.

Deirdre MacDonald, of the Wexford Tony Boland branch, proposing the motion, said everyone has heard so much about wellbeing during the pandemic but action is needed.

She said finding time to get to know students, their personalities, talents, difficulties, and learning styles is directly linked to class size.

The issue could be addressed by reducing class size in line with international best practice, she added. “This would give real meaning to what has to date only been trite words on wellbeing and welfare from the Department of Education,” she said.

English and religious education teacher Therese Glennon said relationships in the classroom are important academically and for good mental health. She said it takes 10 to 15 minutes to correct a student’s work, so that would mean over seven hours with a class of 30.

The INTO called for a reduction in the size of primary school classes, to bring them into line with, or lower than, the EU average.

Proposing the motion that was unanimously adopted, INTO executive member Carmel Browne said the average class size in Ireland was 24, compared with an EU average of 20, with one in five children being taught in a class with 30 or more pupils.

“The impact of supersized classes was never more evident than when the Covid pandemic hit in 2020.

“The stark reality is that social distance is an impossibility in large classes in cramped classrooms. Keeping an adequate distance between pupils, or even groups of pupils, in the average Irish classroom, is an impossible task,” she said.



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