Smaller classes for everyone

If there’s one thing that kids need to be successful, it’s one-on-one time with their teacher. This has been researched extensively and parents get it too: smaller classrooms mean better outcomes for students.

Frontline classroom educators identify small classes as the most important factor in their ability to work individually with students and meet their diverse needs. Smaller classes improve student behaviour and peer relationships and increase student engagement and achievement in the early grades. Investing in smaller classes will contribute to alleviating the antisocial, aggressive behaviour that contributes to incidents of classroom violence.

Class size has been extensively studied. A 2014 US-based review of the research concludes: “The academic literature strongly supports the common-sense notion that class size is an important determinant of student outcomes.” A 2018 study of the California class size reduction program – the largest in US history dating back to the late 1990s – found smaller classes in public schools reduced private school attendance and improved the quality of education through the enrolment of former private school students and the additional funding that followed them.

Smaller classes have improved student engagement and achievement in the early grades.

Ontario’s investment in smaller classes in primary grades has had a positive impact on our classrooms. Ontario-based research demonstrates that smaller primary classes have enabled teachers to provide more individual attention to students and use a greater variety of instructional strategies. The Ontario research indicates that small classes have an even greater impact if educators use teaching strategies and classroom practices that take full advantage of the benefits of smaller classes. Educators need opportunities to share and collaborate on best practices in smaller classes.

The benefits of small classes we have seen in the primary grades need to be extended to grades 4 to 8. Currently, primary grades are funded for an average class size of 20 and secondary grades for a class size average of 22. By comparison, funding for grades 4 to 8 supports a class size average of 24.5. These grades have the largest class sizes in the system, often more than 30 students in a class. A poll conducted by ETFO in early 2018 indicates that 67 per cent of Ontarians support placing a cap of 22 students on grades 4 to 8.

Ontario’s full-day Kindergarten program is an exciting, bold initiative but there are issues that must be addressed, including class size. The Kindergarten program is funded to have an average class size of 26 and an average staff-child ratio of 1:13. There are still, however, a number of classes with over 30 students and an even greater number of Kindergarten/Grade 1 split grade classes, which aren’t supported by a designated early childhood educator. ETFO members consistently raise concerns about the challenges of setting up activity-based programs for that many young children and managing classroom behaviour when many of the students are experiencing formalized learning environments for the first time. Overcrowded and often noisy classrooms or open “pods” limit teachers’ and early childhood educators’ ability to take full advantage of the play-based program and create stressful work and learning environments.

Ontario has a policy of integrating students with identified special needs into regular classrooms. The policy recognizes that our public schools have the responsibility to support the education and growth of all children. The inclusion model is based on the notion that students’ learning environment should reflect the diversity of society at large and foster understanding and appreciation for individual differences. To effectively support this policy and enable classroom educators to meet the individual needs of their diverse students, class sizes should be adjusted to reflect the number of students with identified special needs in each class.

In 2017, through negotiations with the provincial government to extend our members’ contract provisions for two years, ETFO achieved modest improvements to grades 4 to 8 class size, a cap of 30 students for Kindergarten in 2017-18 and of 29 students the following school year. Ontario must continue to reduce class size in these grades.

Act on this!
Take action for smaller classes Share it!
  • Cap grades 4 to 8 class size at 24 students.
  • Cap Kindergarten at 26 students.
  • Introduce a weighting factor that reduces class size in accordance with the number of students with identified special needs integrated into regular classrooms.


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