Ontario is open to negotiating a smaller boost to class sizes, the education minister said Thursday, while downplaying impacts of the planned increase — messaging that teachers decried as an “insult” and a “sleight of hand.”
High school class sizes during the upcoming academic year in Ontario will not be as large as initially anticipated, Education Minister Stephen Lecce said at a news conference in Scarborough.
The Progressive Conservative government now says will limit the average secondary school class size to 22.5 students, up from 22, Lecce said. Because that figure is a board-wide average, however, individual class sizes could have more students.
Lecce’s predecessor, Lisa Thompson, said in March that in an effort to reduce the province’s education budget, the average secondary school class size would increase from 22 to 28 students per teacher.
The government’s own materials that accompanied the March announcement said the proposed changes were intended for the 2019-2020 year, though it was later noted in the same document that the increase “would be phased in.”
In subsequent interviews, Thompson did not articulate that the coming school year would see high school class sizes remain “effectively the same,” as Lecce said today.
Speaking to CBC Radio’s Metro Morning shortly after the announcement, Thompson said teachers told her during consultations that the “ideal” high school class size is 26 to 28 students and that bigger classes would make students more resilient. She did not say that the increase would be limited to an average of half a student per teacher for the upcoming school year.
Lecce blamed “misinformation” disseminated by “certain entities” for a widespread notion that board-wide average high school class sizes could reach 28 this September, though he did not deny that could be the reality in coming years.
Ontario is in the middle of bargaining with teachers and education workers, and Lecce said he is open to changing the plan to increase class sizes if teachers and boards can propose other ways to find cost savings.
In the aftermath of the March announcement, some school boards warned they would have to eliminate course offerings; that some classes, particular specialized ones, would balloon in size and that teachers would need to be laid off.
The government acknowledged at the time that the changes would mean 3,475 fewer teachers in the system, but that the reduction will be through not filling positions when teachers quit or retire and that there will be no “involuntary” job losses.
Lecce said Thursday that fears about teacher lay-offs were exaggerated by some school boards and teachers’ unions.
He added that class sizes for kindergarten and primary grades will remain at 29 and 23, respectively. Meanwhile, intermediate Grades 4 to 8 will see an increase to 24.5, up slightly from 23.84, as previously laid out in the government’s March announcement.
NDP education critic Marit Stiles called today’s announcement “11th hour damage control” that will not “save students who have already had their timetables turned upside-down.”
School boards want more information
Toronto District School Board (TDSB) Chair Robin Pilkey says staff are waiting for more detailed information related to the minister’s announcement to determine how this will affect its teachers and students.
“Until this info is received, there will likely be a fair bit of confusion and speculation,” Pikey wrote in an email to CBC Toronto.
Meanwhile, the Peel District School Board says it’s not in a position to address the impact of the class size changes either. The board said in a tweet that it must first “review ministry technical papers” adding that it is “waiting on those.”