Class size and composition and BCCPAC

Another personal report, by DPAC Chair. 

I wanted to go into more detail about the discussion that was had about class size and composition at the BCCPAC meeting, and at previous BCCPAC AGMs.

I had put in a paragraph in my previous report: “Back in 2006, a resolution that was passed at BCCPAC was: “That BCCPAC advise all education partners that limiting the number of students in classrooms based on designations or labels is discriminatory and, as such, legislation or employee contracts must not contain wording that promotes or creates such limits.”  I think it’s important to note that we want and need funding, supports, and resources for all our children, but we shouldn’t deny students access based on a group characteristic. There must be a better way of doing things. My notes say “but make damn sure to protect the money!”. Again, very much an avenue for further discussion, on how to best manage issues of student need and teacher workload.”

It’s really easy to misinterpret the BCCPAC position on this, especially in the current environment of mistrust. I have to say that all of the parents who have worked on this have children in the schools, and have dealt with a lot of these issues personally, with their children. Not one person in that room was in there from the point of view of “let’s do this as cheaply as possible!”, or “our system is perfect as it is!”.

We all know that it’s possible to have a really workable classroom with 30 students – if they’re the “right” kind of students – and a completely unworkable classroom with 15 students – again, if they’re not the “right” kind of student.

Class size and composition are a method of trying to match resources to individual children. It’s a way of saying that we have a complicated system, we have all these children with individual needs, we have to match them with classes and teachers and education assistants and resources and manage teacher workload – let’s make it simple and limit it by number of students and by number of students with particular identified challenges, who are designated and officially labelled.

But is this the best way to do it? We again all know about the “grey area” children – the ones without designations or labels or directed funding. How do these students fit with class size and composition? The answer is that they don’t. And they need support as well.

Do we need to have students officially labelled and designated before we can offer support to them? We shouldn’t.

This doesn’t mean that we don’t want funding for individual students! Very much, we want to protect that current level of funding, and then generate more funding for these other needs. Some strong words were used about the necessity of protecting funding.

So the goal was to focus on the needs of each individual child. Every child is special, every child has special needs. Some have more needs than others, some are more difficult to teach than others, some will be easier to teach.

How do we flip the way we look at it, focus on the needs of each child, and how do we match that with appropriate class sizes, teacher workload, education assistant workload, supports, and money?

I don’t think there’s any one formula that will do that. I think this needs to be a discussion that’s had with every teacher, every principal, for each class. We wanted parent input into this – but I do think that we all recognized the pivotal role of the education professionals.

What are a couple of problems with this sort of model?

Well, one is reporting out and seeing how this works. It’s really easy to pull up a report of all class sizes over 30, and all those that have over 3 students with individual education plans. It’s less easy to track, are each individual student’s needs met?

If we can’t measure it, how can we manage it?

How can we best measure it, how can we best manage it, how can we best tell if it works – and how can we trust that it’s being done for the benefit of our kids?

Let’s have that discussion – a respectful discussion, on how our education system can best meet the needs of all our individual students, in such a way that supports all our students in their ability to thrive and succeed in life.

Can we use the provincial voice of BCCPAC to get our education partners in a room, together, and work on this, with a respectful joint discussion?

Teacher workload is very much a contract concern, and should be dealt with in fair bargaining, and reach a fair negotiated settlement.

Meeting the needs of all our individual students, though – that’s a discussion that should be had by all of us who are involved in the system. I don’t think BCCPAC has the one, true, answer to the solution – but I firmly believe that we can use all of our partners in education to come up with a better answer than what we currently have.

We have all these dedicated, experienced people involved in the education system. We can do better.

Sarah Holland, DPAC Chair

2 thoughts on “Class size and composition and BCCPAC

  1. As a parent of two children, both of whom require additional support in the classroom in order to attend school this clearly resonates with me. One of my children has a designated special need and as such has received funding and EA support since she started school last year. My other child has various diagnoses and his doctor thought this would be enough to get him a designation so that he could get support and funding. As we know though, this is not often the case for these “grey area” kids and as such he did not get a designation and direct funding. So the suport that he is receiving is someting I have had to fight long and hard for. The support that he receives is also dependent on getting a teacher for him who is willing to work with us as parents to ensure his needs are met. So I cross my fingers each school year thatt his teacher has the inclination, resources and enough time in their schedule to assist not only us but the other students in the class too. It is very difficult as a parent to have one child who comes with a designation and therefore gets support while the other child who needs it just as mcuh (if not more since it is not readily available and some years close to nonexistent). There are clearly changes needed as a designation should not be required. If a child has identifed needs that require extra help, support and assistance to help them thrive and succeed in a classromo they should be met . Anything else is simply a failure. PERIOD. Change is defintely needed. WE CAN DO BETTER!

  2. I definitely agree that each student’s needs must be met and as a special education teacher, resource teacher and learning support teacher, have worked with students of differing needs. One student may have the exact same designation as another but require less time. Another student may not have a designation but still needs help. The difficulty without targeted funding is how do you know how much is necessary to meet all those needs. Do you sit every year and test and tally and ask for funding? That takes up a huge amount of time which can be spent on teaching. Who determines the amount and who agrees? This is why the LIF is not a fair mechanism, because some schools received more than others depending on how they presented their case, and how quickly they scrambled for the money. When the category of Learning Disability and Severe Learning Disability was taken out of targeted funding, we saw changes in the delivery models with those students receiving less and less support. We no longer saw a resource teacher assigned just to those students, many districts blending all needs into learning support, which in my view is not a workable model for many reasons. What categories do is make a baseline which according to the type of learning challenge a certain amount is targeted for that student. At least the money is in the school, and if there is extra time on a specialists schedule then that time can be used for a designation that does not get as much funding, but really needs it. This way you have a guaranteed sum coming into the system that districts can rely on. Then, for each school the number of specialist teachers and other supports is determined. If you don’t have those categories how do you justify the amount of personnel required? Once students have their iep in place, the amount of time required to assist each student is discussed with the classroom teacher, the principal and the parent. The reason gray area students fall through the cracks is because in each school there should be a position of learning assistance which was done away with when funding was not longer targeted to the child but went to the district and often that money went to other places, such as day to day costs. This to me is unethical. In the states, they have a law called IDEA and that money goes to the child first and the school. Now a lot of children in the autism spectrum get a fixed amount of funding and that has made a huge difference in parents being able to afford services, however those services are not being offered in our schools and I think they should be, we should not be privatising parts of our public education. The problem is that their SEAs are often shared with other children because again not enough funding is given for other categories and that is not right. The other problem is that special education teachers have such huge caseloads that they are often teaching very little but being timetable crunchers and overseeing SEAs which should be the job of the principal. The same in high schools, counsellors are used for scheduling instead of helping children, because of cost cutting measures. The learning disabilities association is working very hard with the special education association to keep categories. Maybe have a look at their objectives. Thank you for trying to find a resolution and please keep talking to teachers and asking the government for funding. Retired teacher running for Trustee in Surrey.niovi.ca

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