Saskatchewan

Teacher's union president says Sask. government's stated average class size of 19 not 'reality'

The president of the Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation says the province's stated average class size of 19 is a "very different reality" from what teachers are experiencing.

Patrick Maze said teachers are frustrated with increasing challenges

The Saskatchewan government's calculation of average class size for 2018-19 was 19.1 students per class. (Brenna Owen/CBC)

The president of the Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation says the province's stated average class size of 19 is a "very different reality" from what teachers are experiencing.

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe and Education Minister Gord Wyant have cited that average class size when defending the government's record on education, but critics say the way the number is calculated gives a misleading picture of what actually goes on in classrooms.   

In question period on Tuesday Moe said, "the average class size in this province, due to the investment of this government on behalf of the people — the largest single investment ever in education in a year, Mr. Speaker — the average class size is 19."

Wyant said the rural average is 18, with the average in Regina and Saskatoon being 21.

STF President Patrick Maze said many teachers' experiences don't line up with the government's stated statistic. 

Maze asked teachers for their experiences through social media. As of Friday he'd received more than 150 responses on Facebook and Twitter.

Maze said the class size in responses ranged from 22 up to 40.

"It's caused some frustration amongst our members and that and we're at a point where we want to see that fixed."

Maze said as enrolment has increased, so to have the needs of students. Challenges exist with mental health, anxiety and depression, in addition to language supports and behavioural issues, he said.

STF President Patrick Maze says teachers reported having as many as 40 students in a single classroom. (Don Somers/CBC)

Maze said the education sector needs support from health care, justice and social services.

"Teachers can't do it alone and they can't do it when there's too many students in their classrooms and they're starting to get to a burnout point," he said.

Maze was asked about the risk of losing burned out teachers.

"They're feeling exasperated and just know that at the end of the day they get home and they feel like they've been kind of putting out fires all day that they haven't done that work that they got into this profession in the first place for," he said. "Then they know that tomorrow's not going to be any different."

Education minister calls 19 'irrelevant'

Minister of Education Gord Wyant also used the average class size to defend the government's record on education.

"If you want to talk about overall educator ratio, Mr. Speaker, the number's 14.5. But in terms of people in the classroom supporting children in our classroom, the number is 19," he said in question period on Wednesday.

When asked about citing the class size as 19, Wyant called it an "irrelevant" number.

"We don't make decisions based on average class size but class size and composition are very important when school divisions are making decisions in terms of how they're going to allocate allocate their resources."

Wyant said the government wants to help alleviate challenges in the classrooms through innovation, specifically in urban centres.

"We want to move forward quite quickly with looking at innovation in the classroom so we can relieve some of the challenges that are in those classrooms."

He said the government is not currently considering maximum class sizes and is more concerned about composition.

NDP education critic Carla Beck called the average number of 19, "meaningless to the work teachers are actually doing in their classrooms."

She said the way the average is calculated is misleading.

"Average class sizes includes things like distance education. It includes support service classes. Smaller specialized classrooms. That is an issue," Beck said.

"I think stop relying on that number because what that is saying to us, what that is saying to teachers, is somehow the minister is dismissing how complex and how large classrooms are."

Beck wants the province to track maximum class size, to also measure the complexity of what teachers are dealing with and to increase the money to school divisions.

"School boards have not been funded to a level that would allow them to just meet the basic cost of inflation," Beck said.

How average class size is calculated

The Ministry of Education broke down how it calculates class size:

  • Divides Full Time Equivalent (FTE) student enrolment figures by FTE educator assignments.

  • FTE include "regular" teaching, "distance learning" teaching, "student support services" teaching and "English as an additional language."

  • The calculation of the proxy average class size does not include educators' time when not instructing students (i.e. - a principal during admin time, or a teacher during prep time).

  • The calculation does not include classroom support employees who do not have a teaching certificate such as educational assistants or social workers.

Saskatchewan's average class size for the 2018-19 school year is 19.1 students per class.

About the Author

Adam Hunter

Journalist

Adam Hunter is the provincial affairs reporter at CBC Saskatchewan, based in Regina. He has been with CBC for 12 years. He hosts the CBC podcast On the Ledge. Follow him on Twitter @AHiddyCBC. Contact him: adam.hunter@cbc.ca

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