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Canada Before Ontario’s expected class-size change, province asks school districts to ‘exercise prudence’ on hiring decisions

The Ontario government is asking school districts to exercise caution around hiring teachers for the fall, ahead of an expected change to primary-class sizes.

In a memo sent to school districts on Thursday evening, a copy of which was obtained by The Globe and Mail, deputy education minister Nancy Naylor wrote that the government was reviewing its consultations on class sizes and teacher hiring practices.

Ontario's Education Minister Lisa Thompson attends Question Period at the Ontario Legislature in Toronto on Aug. 2, 2018.

Chris Young/The Canadian Press

“I am writing to you today to recommend that school boards exercise prudence in making hiring decisions in light of the upcoming Ontario budget and the recent consultation on class size and hiring practices,” Ms. Naylor wrote.

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She added: “School boards are advised to defer the annual processes of filling vacancies for retirements and other leaves related to teachers and other staff until the Minister of Education provides an update to the sector on or before March 15.”

Opinion: Removing caps on class sizes is a failure of both education and economics

Read more: Ontario education minister defends consultations on class sizes

Premier Doug Ford’s government recently completed education consultations, which included the possibility of removing caps on class sizes for kindergarten to primary grades.

Questions in a government document outlining the consultations asked whether hard caps on class sizes in kindergarten and Grades 1 to 3 should continue, and if not, what an appropriate mechanism to set class sizes would be.

Many in the education sector fear that removing class-size caps is the first sign of further cuts to schools as the government tries to trim a deficit it pegs at $14.5-billion.

Michael Barrett, chair of the Durham District School Board, said he was “worried about the potential impact" that the government’s announcement will have on staffing levels and the board’s ability to provide programs to its students.

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Currently, the kindergarten class-size cap is 29 students, and the average class size across any board can’t be more than 26.

For the primary grades, the cap is 23 students, but at least 90 per cent of classes in any board must have 20 or fewer students.

The research is conflicted over how much class size matters when it comes to student achievement. Some research shows it is beneficial to reduce class sizes, especially in the early years, but the affect on academic achievement is small. Other studies show that the key to quality education is spending money on developing strong teachers and a high-quality curriculum.

The government also concluded consultations on the full-day kindergarten program for four- and five-year-olds. It asked for input on the two-educator model − a teacher and an early-childhood educator − and if there are other models the ministry could consider.

Full-day kindergarten was introduced by the former Liberal government in the fall of 2010 and incorporates two years of a play-based curriculum for junior and senior kindergarten. It costs the government $1.5-billion a year.

A team of researchers from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) at the University of Toronto found that full-day kindergarten learners are “significantly ahead” in reading, writing and number knowledge than their half-day peers at the end of Grade 2. The researchers also found that children enrolled in the all-day learning program showed significant gains in self-regulation, which includes the ability to focus, follow instructions and co-operate with peers.

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