Looking to next fall and a further decline in the number of students attending school across Newfoundland and Labrador, the provincial government is likewise reducing the number of teaching positions available.
While Education Minister Clyde Jackman told The Telegram a change was made in 2008 to use a needs-based formula for teacher allocations, the president of a group representing school councils provincewide says government should place a greater emphasis on the needs-based side of the equation.
“Even though enrolment is declining in our schools, a lot of the problems and the issues in our schools are certainly on the increase,” said Ruby Hoskins, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of School Councils.
“We have more students entering the system with behavioural needs, needing remedial assistance, mental health issues. ... We may have less students in our system, but we’re having more issues and problems that our students are facing in the system. It’s certainly not a time to take those teacher out.”
As of this week, 5,378.75 teachers have been allocated for the fall, not including numeracy support teachers (25) and itinerant support positions (115). The figure is 41.75 positions lower than what has been allocated for the end of the 2011-12 school year. The ratio of students to teachers remains unchanged at 12.68.
While Jackman notes student enrolment has declined by 22 per cent since 2001-02, the number of teaching positions has been decreased by less than 14 per cent over the same period.
“That’s attributable to the change in the allocation model, and today, relative to the student population, we have more teachers in our education system than ever in our history,” Jackman said, adding he has challenged opposition members in the House of Assembly to identify a better allocation model in Canada.
“They won’t find it,” he said.
Making note of Jackman’s assertion that Newfoundland and Labrador has one of the best student-to-teacher ratios in Canada, Hoskins points out that government includes non-classroom administrators and guidance counsellors in the ratio.
“These are not classroom instructors, so to include them in the ratio is kind of no different than saying we’re going to include support staff in our schools in the ratio to bring down the ratio,” she said.
A review of the allocation formula is necessary, according to Hoskins, who adds that separate allocation models should also be used for French-immersion programs and for schools in rural and more urban areas.
Hoskins said the federation has been in touch with school councils across the province about allocations for September.
“It’s too late to do this in September, and that’s why we’re urging school councils to step up to the plate and ask their administrators if they are being impacted by the loss of teaching units and how that’s going to impact their school,” she said, adding the federation has requested a meeting with the minister on the allocations.
Capping sizes for classrooms remain unchanged at 20 students for kindergarten, 25 for Grades 1 to 6, and 27 in Grades 7-9. No caps exist for high school levels. Jackman said government is not considering changing classroom caps.
“The average class size in this province is 18, and it’s a good class size,” Jackman said.
“Will there be challenges? There’ll always be challenges; there’s no doubt about it. But we’ve made major investments in education, and these caps we’re pleased and proud to have in place, and they’ll continue.”
Hoskins said while her federation is interested in capping the size of high school classrooms, government has previously informed the federation that capping high school class sizes would likely have a negative effect on course selection options.
“You’re going to affect the curriculum because you’re taking out some of the courses that would be offered in order to initiate class caps for senior high,” she said. “So you’re robbing from one to sell the need for the other.”
In the 2009-10 and 2010-11 school years, 446 teachers retired. While only 56 have thus far retired this year, Jackman said that figure will likely rise as September approaches.
“I was in the school system, and as a principal, I had somebody on the staff who didn’t decide to retire until two weeks before the school opened, because it’s a major decision in a lot of people’s lives,” said Jackman.
The minister said many positions are eventually filled by teachers working in a replacement capacity or as substitutes, adding opportunities remain to find work in the province for recent education graduates.