Expanding class sizes in Ontario presents both opportunities and difficulties for many school boards. Trillium Lakelands District School Board Director of Education Larry Hope says each board in Ontario is unique, as they all face different hurdles based on location, population and student needs.
His comments come as the Ford Government kicks off consultations with stakeholders to find efficiencies within the provincial education funding formula. He says he’s not sure where the province is going just yet with these consultations, but when it comes to classes a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work like it used to. He explains the evolution of student needs impacts the modern classroom much more compared to just a few decades ago.
“We might have had the odd child with a special need or an enhanced set of needs, today that is much more common where we are being asked to support students in ways that perhaps we didn’t need to 20 or 25 years ago. We have much different challenges in our classrooms than we have in the past.”
Hope says ideally he’d like the province to provide flexibility to boards on the kindergarten and primary grade class caps. Currently, kindergarten classes are capped at 29 students and grades 1-3 can only have up to 23 students, with many schools usually keeping that number around 20.
“Not to suggest that all our classes should be stacked up and bulked in terms of 30 to 35 kids, nothing like that should be entertained,” says Hope. “But certainly consideration should be given to some flexibility that allows us to manage our classrooms appropriately.”
He goes on to suggest there is no magic number when it comes to student caps, so giving the school boards the ability to decide if a cap is necessary would be beneficial.
“I think it’s fair to say that we’ve seen many, many examples over the years where smaller class sizes are very beneficial,” says Hope. “We’ve also seen many, many examples where a larger class, depending on the composition and makeup of the students in that class, sometimes can be managed just fine by a teacher.”
But, when asked if he felt larger class sizes might put more pressure on TLDSB teachers, Hope confirmed his confidence in the abilities of his staff, but he still has concerns. He reiterates there are times when a larger classroom can work, but this type of scenario is less likely within his board.
“That is not what we could consider to be a regular occurrence,” he says. “Given the intensity of the need of some of our students, more children in the class is not always a good thing.”
Ontario’s Education Minister Lisa Thompson says the consultations are in the very early stages, so she doesn’t expect a decision on class sizes to be made anytime soon. The consultations will also reportedly cover hiring practices for teachers used by school boards across the province.
Looking forward, Hope is confident there is room for improvement without impacting student needs in the classroom.
“There is a possibility there for us to find some pretty decent efficiency I believe.”