British Columbia

B.C. class size and composition 'letting kids down,' say teachers

The B.C. Teachers' Federation says the Liberal government is letting the province's children down, based on the government's own figures on class size and composition.

Teachers' federation says Liberal government is letting province's children down

B.C. Teachers' Federation president Jim Iker is calling on the government to boost funding, reduce class sizes, improve class composition and hire more specialists. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

The B.C. Teachers' Federation says the Liberal government is letting down the province's children, particularly those with special needs, based on the government's own figures on class size and composition.

"Two years ago, Premier Christy Clark said improving class composition was her number one priority, but her continued underfunding of education has actually made things worse," said BCTF president Jim Iker.

"Teachers had hoped the premier was sincere, but these new numbers show she hasn't lived up to her words."

According to a news release from the BCTF, enrolment has gone up by 6,559 students. Meanwhile, it says, the government has cut $29 million from school districts this year and will cut $25 million more next year.

The era of cuts and underfunding must come to an end.- Jim Iker, BCTF president

Iker says the number of classes including four or more students with special needs is at an all-time high, as is the number of classes including seven or more students with special needs.

"When classes become too large and overly complex, all students lose out on time with their teachers," said Iker, who puts the blame squarely on budget cuts.

"The era of cuts and underfunding must come to an end," said Iker. "There is a lot at stake in the budget and it is time for B.C. to finally stop letting kids down."

Iker is calling on the government to boost funding, reduce class sizes, improve class composition and hire more specialists.

Minister 'disappointed'

But B.C.'s Minister of Education Mike Bernier says he's disappointed in the BCTF's claims.

"We've been working well with the BCTF on major education initiatives like the new curriculum, so it's disappointing to see them making broad political conclusions from a province-wide report on class size and composition," said Bernier in a statement.

Bernier said specific decisions on individual classrooms are made under legal class-size caps at the local school district level and not by the province itself. He also denied underfunding education.

"This year we are investing a record $5 billion in the education system in B.C., and that includes extra funds to districts to support each and every student with special needs," he said.

"Our $100 million learning improvement fund helped districts hire an additional 312 full time teachers this year, increase another 616 from part-time to full time and increase almost 3,000 support staff from part-time to full time."

Long-running dispute

The BCTF's comments are just the latest instalment in a long-running dispute over class size and composition between B.C. teachers and the provincial government. 

The on-going saga dates back to 2002 when the province stripped teachers of their right to bargain class size and composition through legislation. The teachers fought that legislation in court and won.

But Bill 22, passed in 2012, did not restore the previously negotiated language around class size and composition that had been removed.  Again, the BCTF took the government to court. 

Although the BCTF initially won a court ruling on the issue, the government appealed and in May 2015, the B.C. Court of Appeal said the province did not violate teachers' constitutional rights in 2012.

However, in January this year, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled it will hear an appeal from the BCTF on the matter.