Talks are moving ahead between the Secondary School Teachers Association, and the education and finance ministries toward reforms, to include groups of 15 to 18 students with a teacher-tutor, some classes with up to 100 students, and a cap on the number of days and hours devoted to school-sponsored social activities.

Many of the understandings reached now depend on the progress of talks with the treasury.

An Education Ministry official yesterday criticized the Finance Ministry's position that high-school teachers should earn more closely to what primary teachers do. "A first-grade teacher can't teach high school physics. These are two groups of teachers, who differ in their education level and their salary should reflect this," the official said.

According to one official participating in the talks, one of the most important aspects of the reform, progress on which has been reported in Haaretz in recent weeks, is the division of the school year into two semesters, each consisting of 100 days, with a 10-day break between semesters. According to internal Education Ministry documents, students will take five or six subjects each semester and have more hours in those subjects than they do now. The document notes that students will study their mother tongue, math and English throughout their high-school years, and will study other subjects for at least two years, but not necessarily consecutively.

"This is a real change in the structure of teaching," an official said. "For example, instead of geography being taught for an hour or two all year, students will get twice the hours. This will limit the number of subjects students are taking at the same time.

Other documents obtained by Haaretz reveal that the Education Ministry has proposed "plenum" classes with 30 to 100 students.

An Education Ministry official said that "there are teachers who are virtuosos, who can 'hold' a class of 100 students. That doesn't suit all teachers or all subjects, but the possibility will allow principals to use the teaching hours at their disposal more wisely."

"Focused and increased prevention of absence from school by students and teachers" is also among the proposals.

"Teacher-tutors" is a concept so far applied in junior high school only. According to the internal document it is meant to reduce what the Education Ministry sees as "a disconnect from a significant adult, even to the extent of alienation."

The role of the "teacher-tutor" will include personally following up the students, involvement in all areas having to do with the student's proper functioning and maintaining continuous communication with parents, including home visits.

A special focus of the reform is to utilize students' time efficiently. Education Ministry Director General Shimshon Shoshani has said that some 20 to 30 percent of scheduled classes turn out to be not held.

Although progress is being made between the teachers' union and the Education Ministry, there has been no breakthrough with the treasury, with teachers opposing efforts to reduce the wage gap between elementary and high-school teachers.

The Secondary School Teachers Association said that "these are internal discussions and no conclusions have been drawn." The Finance Ministry said: "Our proposal to Secondary School Teachers Association head Ran Erez is not the same as what kindergarten and elementary school teachers receive and we hope to reach an agreement soon." The treasury said all proposals to teachers had been fully coordinated with the Education Ministry.