Stats show class cap working

Published on July 17, 2010

School enrolment numbers suggest the provincial government's plan to cap class sizes has been mostly successful.

Grade 1 to 5 class sizes are capped at 25 students, while grades 7 and 8 are set at 27 students per class. Kindergarten classes are locked in at 20 students. The class size figures released by the provincial government show those goals were met during the last school year, with some exceptions.

School enrolment numbers suggest the provincial government's plan to cap class sizes has been mostly successful.

Grade 1 to 5 class sizes are capped at 25 students, while grades 7 and 8 are set at 27 students per class. Kindergarten classes are locked in at 20 students. The class size figures released by the provincial government show those goals were met during the last school year, with some exceptions.

About 100 classes across the province were a few students above the cap. They were concentrated in the Eastern School District. Education Minister Darin King said in many of those situations, children transferred into schools after teachers were allocated in the spring.

From June to September, for example, a lot of things can change, he said. Children can move away from a certain school or a certain area; children can move into an area.

He said it may be a result of school boards anticipating these changes.

John Smith, vice-president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of School Councils, said the organization is pleased with the government's work on class sizes, but called the cap soft.

A handful of classes are significantly above the cap, however. Mary Queen of Peace Elementary School in St. John's, for example, has a Grade 4 and a Grade 5 class with 35 students each.

This upcoming school year, Grade 6 and 9 classes will be capped due to an investment of $1.9 million announced in this year's budget.

It's the final stage in a three-year plan to cap kindergarten to Grade 9 class sizes.

The cap has had the biggest impact in larger centres such as St. John's, as classes tend to be smaller in rural areas of the province.

"In here, for example, an elementary class could easily have been in the 30 or so range." King said of the St. John's area.

"A primary class could easily have been in the 28 or so range, as well."

King said he has only received positive feedback on the cap.

Lower student-to-teacher ratios help reduce teacher workloads. King said research indicates smaller classes have been linked to better academic performance, especially among children in lower grades.

"It was from that premise that we operated," said King.

The decision to cap classes came out of a 2008 independent review that recommended several changes to the teacher allocation model.

Smith said the federation would like to see the high school class size addressed, as well.

King said government has considered capping those classes, but it isn't being pursued further.

King said the problem with capping classes in high school is the complexity of the class scheduling system.

Unlike in the lower grades, in larger schools classes are divided by subject instead of homeroom.

He did note that the province's high schools have an average of 23.5 students per teacher. The number is likely influenced by low rural enrolment.

"We agree that it is a complicated issue," Smith said, "but we'd still like to see a cap size or extra resources put into having more teachers in the classroom, or teacher assistants."

kbreen@thetelegram.com