The Ontario government says it is introducing modest changes to class size at the elementary level while student numbers will remain “effectively the same as last year” for the coming school year.
Despite a pledge to increase the number of students as early as this year, Education Minister Stephen Lecce said there will be no changes to class sizes for students in kindergarten to Grade 3 while one additional student will be added per class in Grades 4 to 8.
High school class sizes will average 22.5 students for the 2019-20 school year – which is about the same as last year – but that number is set to grow to 28 over the next four years.
“I truly believe this reflects our commitment to cooperate with and to listen to our education sector, partners and to parents,” Lecce explained.
“As we move forward with a new year, I look forward to continuing discussions about class sizes in good faith with our education labour partners at the bargaining table as we build on our world class education system.”
The announcement comes as talks on a new contract with high school teachers are set to begin. While contracts are set to expire on Aug. 31, the head of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation – who was at the Ontario Labour Relations Board on Thursday to determine what issues should be bargained centrally – says he doesn’t expect substantive talks to begin until mid-to-late September.
Boards have for months been planning for moving to an average of 28 students per high school class, at varying paces over the four years, depending on attrition.
The Toronto District School Board announced in May that their classes would see an average of 23.6 in the first year of the four-year process. More than 700 classes have been cancelled board-wide because of that.
OSSTF president Harvey Bischof said Lecce’s announcement is smoke and mirrors, since the government’s plan is still to increase class averages to 28 over time.
“This is nothing more than a feeble attempt at sleight of hand on the part of Minister Lecce,” he said in a statement.
The Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association said school boards have already been planning with the 28-average goal in mind, resulting in courses and programs being cancelled.
“The announcement today by Minister of Education Stephen Lecce is an insult to students, families, teachers, education workers and all Ontarians,” president Liz Stuart said in a statement.
“If the government was planning a different course of action, they could have told Ontarians about it months ago. Instead, they have been content to allow chaos and confusion to unfold.”
Cathy Abraham, president of the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association, said she is still very concerned with the plan to raise class sizes to 28.
“Based on the information provided by the minister, there are unlikely to be any changes to the class sizes or course offerings that boards had been planning for the 2019/20 school year,” she said in a statement.
NDP education critic Marit Stiles said Lecce said nothing new Thursday.
“Doug Ford’s class size hike is still going ahead and this 11th hour damage control attempt to soften that bad news by the Ford government will not save students who have already had their timetables turned upside down, lost the courses that they’re going to need either to graduate or pursue whatever path or opportunity they want to,” she said.
In answering reporters questions on Thursday, Lecce said there had been “misinformation” spread about class sizes possibly ballooning to as many as 40 to 50 students.
“Despite this misinformation students this fall will still be in smaller class sizes and still enjoy a variety of courses,” he said.
“I believe the changes we announced today will ensure we put our students first and enhance student achievement by investing in and defending Ontario’s publicly funded education system.”
However, when it comes to what will happen in future school years, Lecce said those decisions will be discussed at the negotiation table.
He indicated that if teachers were willing to give up some savings in contract talks then class sizes would not have to increase.
“My message to unions then and today and any trustees’ association (is) if they can bring forth ideas within our fiscal authorities, if they bring forward innovative ideas that can reduce our class numbers, I am … open to those ideas,” he said.
Files from The Canadian Press were used in this report