SCOTTISH teachers have attacked the controversial classroom practice of streaming pupils on the basis of their academic ability arguing it exacerbates social inequality.

Delegates at the annual general meeting of the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) in Dundee yesterday criticised so-called "setting" and called for a move to mixed-ability classes.

Anne McCrae, from the union's Edinburgh local association, said the EIS should challenge the assumption that children should be "stuck forever and ever" in groups based on prior attainment.

Susan Smith, from the Aberdeenshire branch, said: "Research shows that learning in mixed-ability classes can benefit able children and those that need extra support."

However, Ronald Mathieson, a maths teacher from the North Lanarkshire local association, argued that there were some school subjects where setting would have to exist.

"In maths, pupils quickly develop a vocabulary which can be alien to others who would be lost from the very start. There is no point teaching calculus to someone who cannot count," he said.

Kenn Bryce-Stafford, from the Edinburgh branch, said setting would not be necessary if class sizes were smaller, but it was currently the only way of giving greater opportunity to pupils.

"A lot of arguments are to do with social development and we know part of our job is to do with society, but I feel our prime objective should be standing up for education."

The motion to reject setting and investigate alternatives was passed with a large majority.

Later, delegates backed calls for industrial action to fight any future changes to their terms and conditions.

There is concern that negotiations with councils and the Scottish Government could lead to longer working hours and fewer holidays.

The motion, from the Renfrew-shire local association, states: "That this AGM oppose any changes to conditions of service made without agreement and instruct council to organise an immediate ballot for action up to and including strike action in reaction to any imposed alterations to teachers' conditions of service."