Education Minister Stephen Lecce says the “voices of parents and students” are being heard as the government makes changes, even as he faced tough questions about a report that showed the province’s own public consultations found ‘virtually no support’ for larger class sizes.
“It is the voices of parents and students that has guided our government in this negotiation,” Lecce told the legislature Wednesday. “That is precisely why we have confirmed that we will keep classes low in this province for students in Ontario. … We are doing that because we are listening. What we’ve also heard loud and clear is that parents want us to stand strong to see more money in schools, not in entitlements, in benefits and wages for educators, and that’s exactly what we’re going to do.”
Last year, Lecce’s predecessor Lisa Thompson announced the government was boosting high school class sizes from an average of 22 to 28, but Lecce has since said he would instead increase classes to an average of 25.
However, two summaries of the province’s massive public consultations — conducted when Thompson was education minister — show “virtually no support” for larger class sizes, something public polling has also indicated.
The summaries also stated that no stakeholder groups — from school boards to students — wanted bigger classes, because of concerns about fewer teachers, student achievement and limited course offerings for teens.
The summaries were revealed Tuesday during an Ontario Labour Relations Board hearing launched by the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association against the government over allegations of bad-faith bargaining because it announced changes to class size during the negotiations period.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said that “last year, the premier bragged that the Ford government consultations were the largest consultations in Ontario’s history. (Tuesday), the result of that consultation went public.”
The report, which the government has repeatedly refused to release, “said there was ‘virtually no support’ for larger class sizes,” Horwath added. “How can this government claim that they are on the side of parents and teachers and students when they’re literally doing exactly the opposite of what they were told by parents, students and teachers?”
She also accused the premier of “spinning tales about make-believe people who want cuts in the classroom” while “he was sitting on a government report that showed exactly the opposite.”
Lecce said the government is seeking deals with all teacher unions “one that keeps kids in class, a good deal for students that puts their interests ahead of union interests. That’s what we believe is so important to advance in this negotiation,” he said.
NDP Education Critic Marit Stiles said given what’s in the report “now we know why they did everything in their power to stop it from coming to light.”
Among the more than 7,000 submissions from the public, about 70 per cent were opposed to larger classes, and none said they supported such a move even if they did support the government saving money, Tom Doyle, chief negotiator for the Catholic teachers’ union, testified Tuesday at the labour board hearing.
The provincial government and unions remain at an impasse in negotiations, with unions opposing larger classes and mandatory online learning, among other changes, and the government insisting wages and benefits are the main issues.
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Talks are scheduled with the AEFO, representing 12,000 French-board teachers, Friday.
No other unions have talks scheduled.
The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation is holding a one-day, rotating strike Friday in a handful of boards.
The AEFO had planned a province-wide walkout for Thursday, but cancelled it because of expected poor weather conditions.