Class Sizes: how B.C. classrooms stack up with others in Canada

File photo.
File photo. AP Photo/ Steve Ruark/File

In B.C. classrooms, everyone agrees size matters. How large or small a class should be – and what effect it has on outcomes – is a tougher question to answer.

One of the most contentious issues in negotiations between the BC Teachers’ Federation and provincial government is the matter of class sizes.

A BCTF pamphlet has a section called “What do teachers want?”. The second point is “Smaller classes, so all students can get the individual attention they deserve.”

They’re seeking to restore class size levels to 2002 levels, before the provincial government stripped away the right to bargain for class sizes.

What the BCTF is expecting is a return to the 2002 language that was illegally stripped by Christy Clark as education minister and subsequently ordered back by the BC Supreme court.

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Here’s what that would look like:

  • Kindergarten – 20 students
  • Grade 1–3 – 22 students
  • Grades 4–7 – 28 students
  • Grades 8–12 – 28 students.

The average class size for grades 4-7 in B.C. is 25.7. In Alberta, which also has no caps, it’s 23.2 for grades 4-6, while in Ontario, there’s a provincial mandate that the average in each school district must be 25 for grades 4-8.

The provincial government has a hard cap of 22 students for kindergarten classes and 24 students from Grade 1 to Grade 3. From Grade 4-12, the limit is 30 – but the government says it can be exceeded in exceptional circumstances. They say teachers are offered additional preparation time, professional-development funding, paid leave or other compensation in cases where classes exceed 30, which normally happens in classes like band or gym.

Alberta, Saskatchewan and Prince Edward Island are the only provinces who don’t have any caps on class sizes. Only Quebec, Newfoundland, and New Brunswick have caps in place after grade three.

In Ontario, the provincial government spent hundreds of millions of dollars to lower class sizes and put in caps over the last decade. Ontario now has a hard cap of 20 students from kindergarten to grade 3. From the school district average must also be under 24.5 for grades four to eight, and under 22 from nine to twelve.

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Dr. Nina Bascia, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, led an extensive study on the effects of putting in class sizes. Her report found that while students were more engaged in smaller classes, “it is not a magic bullet.”

“You can’t deal with any aspect just by itself and expect that nothing else will be affected,” she said, adding that other services were harmed because the government didn’t put enough money into new services after paying for extra teachers.

“There were a number of things that would have been picked up at the local level and there wasn’t money.”

Tomorrow: We take a look at special needs students, and how “class composition” plays as big a role as “class size” in negotiations.

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