Nova Scotia

Education minister, teachers union head see path to progress on inclusion report

The province’s education minister and the head of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union both say they can find common ground to make the recommendations of a report on inclusive education a reality.

Independent report called for sweeping overhaul of inclusive education system

The education minister and the head of the teachers union say they're willing to work together to make the recommendations in the recent inclusion report a reality. (Robert Short/CBC)

The province's education minister and the head of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union both say they can find common ground to make the recommendations of a report on inclusive education a reality.

The report that was delivered last week calls for a sweeping overhaul of the inclusion system, including an immediate infusion of more support workers and specialists. There's also a call for better professional development for teachers.

Education Minister Zach Churchill noted two-thirds of teachers who participated in the inclusion commission's consultation process said they didn't feel adequately trained to handle complex classrooms.

"We not only need to make sure our teachers have more resources for behavioural supports, for autism supports, have specialists in the system to aid them, but we do need to do a better job training them," he said in a recent interview.

"In that regard, it seems we've been failing them."

Education Minister Zach Churchill says some recommendations from the inclusive education commission will require co-operation from the teachers union. (Darren Calabrese/Canadian Press)

Professional development is something covered in the teachers' collective agreement, and so changes would require support from the union.

Union president Liette Doucet said teachers access professional development based on need. If the government is prepared to ensure training is available and funded, teachers will take advantage, she said.

Doucet acknowledged it's been tense times for her union and the government, but said the report is an important opportunity.

"There is a lack of trust," she said of teachers' view of the government. "However, there comes a time you do have to set your differences aside and work through issues so that our students can be better served."

NSTU president Liette Doucet said her members are hoping the government is committed to bringing in all recommendations from the report. (Paul Poirier/CBC)

The other aspect that may require compromise is the call from the commission to quickly hire hundreds more support workers and specialists, some in time for September. Churchill has said he doesn't have a problem with that recommendation, but staffing realities mean there likely aren't enough available people to meet the initial recommendation.

The minister said he's open to short-term solutions, such as using graduate students in appropriate fields to help while recruiting and training efforts continue. That approach was used last year to eliminate a backlog of students waiting for psychological assessments.

Doucet said stopgap measures can be discussed, but people need the appropriate training.

"It may be something that we eventually do need to look at, however I think we need to look at the resources we currently have and how we can provide training to our current teachers."

The amount of training an existing teacher would need to take on an expert or specialist role would depend on the service: some might need a full degree, while others could require days or weeks of training, said Doucet.

Doucet said teachers she's talked with are pleased with the report, saying it reflects concerns they've voiced for some time, but there is concern government might not be fully committed to making the recommendations a reality.

Government costing full report

Churchill said the commitment is there, starting with the $15 million announced in the spring budget, a number selected specifically based on guidance from the inclusion commission. Education Department officials are doing a full cost analysis of the entire report, said Churchill. The document was not fully costed, but says by the fifth of five years it will cost $80 million a year to implement all recommendations.

Churchill said the only recommendation his department is still "pondering" is the establishment of an institute to oversee inclusion.

"We will pursue the objective of that, to make sure there is accountability and evaluation on how well we're doing. We just don't know if we want to establish another bureaucracy for that at this point."

Meanwhile, the union has returned its representative to the council on classroom conditions. Doucet said the executive decided it was important to return, especially because the inclusion report will be discussed by the council.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michael Gorman is a reporter in Nova Scotia whose coverage areas include Province House, rural communities, and health care. Contact him with story ideas at michael.gorman@cbc.ca

now