April 23rd, 2024

Growing class sizes a concern for ATA heading into budget

By Brendan Miller on February 27, 2024.

Students at Mother Teresa School are seen in this 2016 file photo. A recent survey released by the Alberta Teachers Association shows a rising concern regarding classroom sizes.--NEWS FILE PHOTO

bmiller@medicinehatnews.com

Results from a research study conducted by the Alberta Teachers Association found that classroom sizes continue to grow larger and more complex while supports for students are shrinking, or outright disappearing.

The survey, conducted over 12 days in December, found 86 per cent of 2,148 teachers surveyed report increased complexity in their classrooms.

The survey also discovered that 62 per cent of educators have reported teaching more students in their classroom this school year over last.

ATA president Jason Schilling says it’s been hard for school boards, which ultimately don’t have the funding to meet the needs of all their students, and hopes this data won’t fall on deaf ears as Alberta is set to release its budget Thursday.

“So they cut teaching staff to save money,” says Schilling. “But that increases class sizes for all the other classrooms that are out there because kids have to go somewhere.”

You cut a Grade 5 teacher, those Grade 5 kids go to other Grade 5 classes, and that bumps up the numbers. And we’ve seen that happen across many jurisdictions in Alberta.”

Schilling says years of underfunding have left schools with less while students struggle more, and points to changes in students’ needs since COVID.

“Throughout the pandemic, and after restrictions were all lifted, teachers are reporting that students have higher social needs, emotional needs, behavioural needs and cognitive needs, that were not being necessarily met in the classrooms with the funding support.”

The survey also discovered that 56 per cent of teachers report a decrease in supports for special educational needs.

“Teachers have indicated that speech therapy would be something that students are waiting a long time to get the supports,” says Schilling. “Or if they have special needs, an educational assistant is somebody who’s quite helpful in the classroom. But there’s lots of places that can’t hire them right now.”

As well, the survey shows nine of 10 teachers are feeling stressed and exhausted, and the ATA says more teachers are choosing to leave the profession.

“This is chronic underfunding in education,” says Schilling. “Schools have been dealing with more and more issues but don’t have the funding or the supports to deal with those issues.”

The ATA has been conducting research surveys since the government stopped reporting class size data in 2019.

Schilling says the association feels compelled to collect classroom data and calls its neglect a failure on the government.

“The fact that government stopped collecting this data in 2019 is really problematic,” says Schilling. “How do they have a really good sense of what’s happening in our schools if they’re not collecting their data?

“I think the failure of the government to collect the classroom data and then subsequently fund schools according to growth and inflation is really a failure on their part when it comes to supporting our students.”

The provincial budget will be announced Feb. 29 at approximately 3:15 pm.

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