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Canada Ontario teachers’ union says increased class sizes could result in thousands of lost jobs, vows to fight the changes

Ontario's Education Minister Lisa Thompson attends Question Period at the Ontario Legislature in Toronto on Aug. 2, 2018. Ms. Thompson announced a number of changes last Friday that included modifications to the sex-ed curriculum and a 'back-to-basics' approach to math. But among the most controversial were increases to class sizes for high school and some elementary grades over the next four years.

Chris Young/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The Ontario government’s plan to increase high-school class sizes will result in the loss of thousands of education positions, says the head of the secondary school teachers’ union which has vowed to fight the changes.

Speaking at a press conference on Thursday, Harvey Bischof, the president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, said public high schools would lose 5,700 teaching positions over four years and 34,000 classes if the government goes ahead with its plans.

Education Minister Lisa Thompson announced a number of changes last Friday that included modifications to the sex-ed curriculum and a “back-to-basics” approach to math. But among the most controversial were increases to class sizes for high school and some elementary grades over the next four years.

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The average class size would increase by one student in grades 4 to 8, and from 22 to 28 students in high school, she said.

Her announcement comes just months before teachers’ contracts expire at the end of August. The issue of class sizes is part of the collective agreements, both in central agreements that provincial unions negotiate with the government and school board associations, and local agreements between school boards and local unions.

“As school boards lose funding, they will find themselves harder and harder pressed to meet contractual obligations. They will likely look for [concessions] to collective agreements regarding class size maximums," Mr. Bischof said, adding that, "to be absolutely clear, we will not concede [any].

He added that the government has created an “enormously” difficult task as bargaining begins in the fall, and parents and students should brace for potential disruptions to the school year.

“They’ve created conflict situations at both the central and local bargaining tables that I think are going to be very, very difficult to overcome without some sort of disruption being entirely possible,” he said.

The research on smaller class sizes being beneficial for students is mixed, but most of it tends to focus on achievement in the early years. The government has said it will not change class sizes in kindergarten, nor will it remove the cap of 23 students in Grades 1 to 3, for the next academic year.

Ms. Thompson has said that the increases in high-school class sizes would bring them in line with class sizes in other jurisdictions. She has also said earlier this week that increases in high-school class sizes will help students become more resilient, and better prepare them for university and work.

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“When students are currently preparing to go off to postsecondary education, we’re hearing from professors and employers alike that they’re lacking coping skills and they’re lacking resiliency,” Ms. Thompson told CBC Radio’s Metro Morning on Wednesday.

“By increasing class sizes in high school, we’re preparing them for the reality of postsecondary as well as the world of work.”

Those comments were criticized by educators, who say she provided no evidence to back up her claim.

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