Alberta Teachers’ Association releases survey results, prompting call for reduced class sizes

Click to play video: 'ATA calls for Alberta Education to reduce class sizes, increase classroom supports'
ATA calls for Alberta Education to reduce class sizes, increase classroom supports
WATCH: Alberta teachers are calling on the province for more support ahead of the release of next year’s budget. The Alberta Teachers Association is releasing findings from a recent survey, highlighting increased class sizes and increased complexity among learners. Sarah Offin speaks with local parents about the impacts some local children in need of extra support are facing – Feb 20, 2024

The Alberta Teachers’ Association is calling for Alberta Education to reduce class sizes and to increase classroom supports as it raises concerns about “significant challenges” teachers in the province are facing.

The call for action came Tuesday as the ATA released the results from a survey completed by 1,934 teachers and 214 school leaders in December. The ATA’s “fall 2023 pulse rapid research study” was conducted Dec. 1-12.

“The findings outlined in this report highlight the significant challenges teachers in Alberta are encountering as they try to meet the growing diversity and complexity of needs of their students,” a report summarizing the survey results said. “The rising number of students requiring supports, including those learning EAL (English as an additional language) and those with various exceptionalities, is a critical issue that has been exacerbated by systemic issues in the education system.

“The study’s qualitative data consistently highlights lack of funding, diminished resourcing, inadequate supports and disconnected senior leadership as major concerns.”

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Global News reached out to Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides for comment on the results of the survey and the concerns raised by the ATA.

In an email, he told Global News that “through Budget 2023, we worked hard to keep up with enrolment pressure through increased funding.”

“More specifically, we increased spending on education by $2 billion over the next three years, which includes $820 million to hire over 3,000 more teachers and education staff,” he said. “As well, in Budget 2023 we approved 58 school projects across the province, and I will be working to build more schools in our growing communities.

“I encourage all Albertans to listen in on Feb. 29 for the Budget 2024 address.”

ATA president Jason Schilling spoke to reporters about the survey’s findings at the Alberta legislature on Tuesday. The ATA advocates for teachers and represents about 46,000 members.

“Our students are struggling for proper and necessary supports,” he said. “Our teachers know this and they see it every single day in their classes as they try to meet the needs of their students.”

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Schilling called the survey results “highly concerning.”

The December survey asked respondents questions about class sizes, student needs, well-being and aggression in schools and the use of artificial intelligence in education.

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Class sizes and student needs

According to the ATA, 61 per cent of respondents reported class sizes increasing in the 2023-24 school year. The ATA said 39 per cent reported having over 30 students in their largest class and noted the largest class sizes being reported was physical education, which sometimes saw classes have over 50 students.

The study also found that about nine out of 10 teachers and school leaders reported seeing an increase “in the complexity and diversity of student needs this school year.”

Some of the challenges highlighted related to emotional issues, behavioural challenges, cognitive needs, EAL, socioeconomic factors and linguistic diversity.

The survey determined that 57 per cent of respondents reported a decrease this school year in supports available for students with “exceptional needs.”

Aggression in schools

The ATA said 52 per cent of respondents reported they experienced either bullying or violence at work at some point this school year.

“The aggression predominantly occurred in person (95 per cent) and was mainly perpetrated by students in teachers’ own classrooms (60 per cent),” the report said.

Use of AI in schools

The report noted that 55 per cent of the survey’s respondents reported using AI “tools or systems” in the six months before completing the survey, “either professionally or personally.”

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It noted that when it comes to education, 29 per cent said they see AI having a positive effect and 37 per cent see it as having a negative effect.

Call for changes to province’s education system

In a news release issued by the ATA on Tuesday morning, Schilling was quoted on the issue of increasing class sizes in Alberta and said “the erosion of learning and teaching conditions must end; improvements are needed now.”

The results of the survey were released nine days before Finance Minister Nate Horner is set to deliver the Alberta government’s latest budget. Increased funding for classrooms is among the recommendations brought forward in the ATA report.

“There is a strong call in this study for structural changes to Alberta’s education system in order to manage the growth of complex student needs, including increased funding, more supports and resources for
both teachers and students, adjustments to class sizes, and more teachers and educational assistants,” the report said.

“The study also underscores the need to eliminate disparities in educational resources and supports across schools and communities, as well as the need for improved communication and more-constructive parental involvement in schools.”

Last week, Global News spoke with Chetan Dave, an economics professor at the University of Alberta, to talk about what he is expecting when the provincial budget is unveiled next week.

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“What I am pessimistic about is the government’s ability to deal with health care … education and the demands on education,” he said. “This government does not leave me with a lot of confidence that they care about the social spending that most Albertans care about when it comes to health care, education, higher education.

“I think their priorities are elsewhere.”

Dave said he expects to see the provincial government’s budget to promise more spending on law enforcement, wildfires and solutions for the homeless crisis.

Schilling said he would like to see the amount of spending per student be increased in Alberta and that the ATA would like to see “budget increases that go well beyond inflation and enrolment growth.”

“We are in the midst of a growing teacher-retention and recruitment crisis. The solution is to improve teaching conditions and it starts by fixing this enormous funding gap.”

METHODOLOGY: The ATA said the survey “employed a randomly stratified and derived snowball sampling method,” which “resulted in a highly-representative data set from 2,148 Alberta teachers (1,934 teachers and 214 school leaders).” The ATA said the poll had a data margin of error at +/- 2 per cent, “applicable in 95 per cent of instances.” The ATA’s fall 2023 pulse rapid research study was conducted Dec, 1-12.

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