Nova Scotia among few provinces without class caps for all grades

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WATCH ABOVE: Nova Scotia is one of four provinces in Canada that doesn't have class caps for every grade level in public school. Global’s Marieke Walsh explains. – Feb 20, 2017

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story stated that Manitoba had no class size targets for all grades, however further analysis shows the Winnipeg School Division exclusively has class caps for every grade. 

Nova Scotia is one of four provinces in Canada that doesn’t have class caps for every grade level in public school.

According to a Global News analysis, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, Manitoba, excluding Winnipeg, and Saskatchewan are the only provinces without class size targets for all grades. All other provinces have either hard caps or targets for class sizes at all levels of public school.

A full list of class size targets across Canada can be found at the bottom of this article. 

READ MORE: Nova Scotia Liberals reject union’s changes to legislated teachers contract

Conditions in the province’s classrooms have become the focus of political debate in Nova Scotia, as teachers fight a legislated contract expected to be proclaimed Tuesday.

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Class size and composition are often the top concerns raised by teachers, and the Nova Scotia Teachers Union tried unsuccessfully to have the government add class sizes to the collective agreement.

The union reached three tentative agreements with the government — in each case the union recommended teachers accept the contracts, but they were all rejected.

READ MORE: NS teachers tell legislature that imposed contract will hurt students most

Nova Scotia has targets for class sizes going up to Grade 6. The targets are 22 students for Kindergarten to Grade 2, and 27 students for Grades 3-6. The targets are not hard caps, and schools are allowed to exceed the class sizes for a number of reasons. Current class size targets will stay the same for the duration of the legislated contract, the government says.

The government says only 3.45 per cent of classes are above the caps in elementary schools.

Speaking at the law amendments committee last week, many teachers raised concerns about class sizes in junior high and high school, citing cases where there are not enough seats, desks and textbooks for the number of students in a class.

“Some of the classes I’m responsible for are over 35 in number, the lab in which I teach … was constructed about 30 years ago to hold 24 students,” teacher Timothy MacLeod said.

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Senior grades with classes of more than 40 students

The Department of Education could not provide data about class sizes in Grades 7-12, saying the information it had wasn’t up to date.

Teachers and parents who gave information about class sizes to Global News pointed to examples of classes of 40 students or more at Prince Andrew High School, Dartmouth High School, Millwood High School and Charles P. Allen High School.

READ MORE: Nova Scotia premier says he has caucus support in teachers dispute

High schools are funded for a teacher-to-student ration of 1:24, but department spokesperson Heather Fairbairn said the government is aware that doesn’t always translate to the classroom.

“We recognize that some classes may be larger. We have heard from teachers and we are looking at opportunities to expand the caps beyond current levels,” Fairbairn said in an emailed statement.

The Liberals have said they plan to place limits on class sizes for junior high school and some high school math courses, but have not given more details about when or how big those targets will be.

READ MORE: Why one Nova Scotia teacher voted ‘no’ to the contract, and what she says needs to change

In New Brunswick, high school classes have a target size of 26 students, and a hard cap of 29 students. In Quebec the cap is set at 32 students for high school classes. Both provinces have class-size limits set out in their collective agreements with teachers.

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Class sizes ‘one little component of a large systemic problem’: Researcher

The research on how important small class sizes are to student learning is mixed, according to educational researcher Jodi Asbell-Clarke.

Class size is a “factor” in classroom conditions for teachers and students, she said. But “it’s only one little component of a large systemic problem.” By fixing some of the broader issues in the school system, she said class size will become less of an issue.

“The classrooms need to be different, they need to be set up so you can diversify the education, you can diversify the lessons so that all learners’ needs can be met,” Asbell-Clarke said.

She said when classrooms are redesigned to suit the needs of students and the curriculum is more flexible for teachers many of the issues around class size would be less pressing. For example, she said within one classroom students should be able to move between activities that allow them to do hands-on work, reading, or physical activity.

“There’s not a magic number, the programming determines the type of ratio of students to teachers that you really need.”

Class sizes by province:

Nova Scotia

There are no hard class caps in Nova Scotia, instead there are targeted sizes. The government uses a higher limit of an additional two students per class size when it measures how many classes fall within the government-mandated class sizes. Below are the class sizes with the “flexibility” added in.

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  • Kindergarten-Grade 2: 22
  • Grades 3-6: 27


None of P.E.I.’s class caps are in the teachers contract and other than a hard cap in kindergarten, the class sizes are soft caps.

  • Kindergarten: 20
  • Grades 1-3: 22
  • Grades 4-6: 25
  • Grades 7-9: 28
  • Grades 10-12: 30

New Brunswick

The province’s class size limits are set out in the teachers’ most recent collective agreement and include targets and slightly higher hard caps for each grade. Below are the hard caps as set out in the contract. The class size limits are smaller for combined grades.

  • Kindergarten-Grade 2: 21
  • Grade 3: 27
  • Grades 4-12: 29

Newfoundland and Labrador

The caps in Newfoundland and Labrador are soft caps. The province sets out a targeted cap and a firmer cap, which includes an additional two students for most school districts and an extra four students in French immersion classes. If a class goes above the higher class size limit, the province says schools can request extra resources. Below are higher calculation of the soft class caps.

  • Kindergarten: 22
  • Grades 1-3: 27
  • Grades 4-6: 31
  • Grades 7-9: 33
  • Combined grades: 18


Quebec’s class size limits are set out as hard caps in the collective agreement. Quebec’s public schools only go up to Grade 11.

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  • Junior kindergarten: 17
  • Senior kindergarten: 19
  • Grade 1: 22
  • Grade 2: 24
  • Grades 3-6: 26
  • Grade 7: 28
  • Grade 8: 29
  • Grades 9-11: 32


Class size limits in Ontario are set out in both government regulations and in the contract with teachers. In elementary schools the limits are set out in regulations. For secondary schools the province outlines board-wide averages for class sizes and different collective agreements set further limits on class size. The hard class caps below are the class sizes for secondary schools defined by the collective agreement for District 26 of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation.

  • Full day kindergarten: 26 (includes a teacher and early childhood educator for each class)
  • Kindergarten-Grade 3: 23
  • Grades 4-8: Board-wide average of 24.5 students per class
  • Grades 9-12 applied classes: 24
  • Grades 9-12 academic classes: 28
  • Grades 9-12 university classes: 30


Across Manitoba class sizes are capped up until Grade 3. However, in Winnipeg, the teachers’ collective agreement sets soft class caps for all grades. Below are the class size limits outlined in the regulations for kindergarten to Grade 3 and in the Winnipeg School Division teachers’ contract for the higher grades.

  • Kindergarten-Grade 3: 23
  • Grades 4-8: 33
  • Grades 9-12: 35


There are no limits to class sizes in any grade in Saskatchewan.

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The Alberta government has implemented a soft cap on classes which is calls “guidelines.” There are no class size limits in the teachers’ contract.

  • Kindergarten-Grade 3: 17 students
  • Grades 4-6: 23 students
  • Grades 7-9: 25 students
  • Grades 10-12: 27 students


Class sizes in B.C. are being renegotiated following a longstanding legal dispute that the B.C. Teachers Federation won, so the limits are expected to change. Below are the hard caps currently set out through government legislation.

  • Kindergarten: 22
  • Grades 1-3: 24
  • Grades 4-12: 30