Split-grade system needs to be reworked

By 
  • November 7, 2008
{mosimage}TORONTO - The provincial cap on primary class sizes needs to be more flexible to avoid having too many split-grade classes that can cause disruptions in classrooms, say some Ontario Catholic school boards.

The Hamilton-Wentworth, London and Toronto Catholic school boards are calling for more flexibility to the policy.
In 2005, the Ministry of Education invested $500 million to cap 90 per cent of primary grade classes from Junior Kindergarten to Grade 3. Only 10 per cent of classes can be over the 20 student cap, with a maximum of 23 students. The goal was to reduce class sizes and ensure that students are getting the help and individual attention they need from their teachers.

Brian Evoy, president of the Ontario Association of Parents in Catholic Education, said parents worry about split-grade classes because when changes are made, often about a month after school has started, children usually would have bonded with their teachers or other students in the class.

But school boards say they usually know how many students will be registered at each school only after about a month. This is also when they decide which classes have to be combined in order to meet the provincially mandated cap.

John Ferris, chair of the London District Catholic School Board, said having more split grades is becoming an increasing concern for parents.

“Certainly, you can handle it up to a point. But if you have every room in a school combined, sooner or later you will have a large outcry from people that this is not the way to do it,” he said.

At the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic board, this provincial policy is “causing an unnecessary amount of combined classes,” according to the board’s superintendent of education Patricia Amos.

Combined grades have also become problematic for teachers, Amos said. There are some disruptions when Grade 3 students in a split-grade or combined class have to take the provincial tests.

In a January 2008 report, the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association said elementary schools are becoming “riddled with multi-grade and split-grade classes” which are increasing the workload of teachers.

Amos said she has already brought up the issue of split grades with Ontario’s Ministry of Education, but no changes have been made so far.

Meanwhile, Toronto trustee Maria Rizzo said the cap has been a problem for schools in her ward. At one school this year, six classes were scheduled to be combined. That is “ridiculous,” Rizzo said.

“What we were actually doing was we were disrupting children to meet the policy rather than dealing with the child’s interests first,” she said.

A majority of students would have been uprooted almost two months into the school year and would have to start all over with a new teacher, new classes and classmates, Rizzo said.

Doug Yak, superintendent of education at the Toronto Catholic board, said there is little flexibility to manoeuvre around the ministry’s policy because failing to comply with it could result in the withholding of provincial funding.

But Ontario Ministry of Education spokesperson Patricia MacNeil said although provincial legislation allows the ministry to withhold funds under certain circumstances, it has not done so over this issue. The ministry is committed to “working with boards that are experiencing challenges,” she said.

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