Staffing for a return to school- could mean big changes.

Doug Little  – 2020-06-04

This article is reprinted with permission from The Little Education Report


Mainstream and social media are full of stories about a return to K12 education in June, September or even January but everybody knows, this won’t be business as usual. Nations around the world are grappling with the necessary social distancing with staggered starts, alternate day programs, blended learning, meaning a single course blend of online and face to face (F2F) education. Some countries have desks 2 m apart, some have plastic shields around desks, some require temperature checks for students and staff.

Almost all have a mask policy, with masks all the time, only for group work, teacher only… whatever. Almost all require frequent hand washing or hand sanitization.

One of the looming issues is how do you staff for socially-distanced  classes of 12-15 kids? The government of Ontario just raised class sizes. The easy answer is hire twice as many teachers but when we think for two seconds, we realize that this would almost double the provincial education budget from $30 billion to $50-55 billion so this isn’t happening.

Let me give you a little shock therapy. This is the thesis of this piece. There are roughly 2 million kids in K12 in publicly financed education in Ontario’s four public systems (English and French, public and catholic). There are 117,178 full time equivalent (FTE) teachers not counting 10,000 or so long term occasional substitute teachers. If we divide 2 000 000 kids by 127,178 (LTO included) teachers we get an answer of 15. That means there are roughly 15 students per teacher.

Well, the system does need some administration but we can certainly see board administrators freezing administration by saying no replacements for retirees. Elementary schools are fairly stable entities with the vast majority of teachers having a home room class for most of the day except in middle schools, junior highs, senior publics, however that middle piece is cut. Yes, there is itinerant French, Special Ed, English as a Second Language (ESL) which operates on reduced class ratios. High schools are quite another matter but some serious discussions may be under discussion.

Many boards have on staff, a high number of consultants and coordinators, certified teachers at higher rates of pay. These teachers may need to report to a school and pick up a regular classroom again if we are to even approach 15:1 ratios. To be fair to them, they should have their pay ‘red circled’ – kept the same – as we assume this is temporary. The situation may last until a vaccine is found.

There is expected to be a huge loss of international students from public (and private) schools. This is a big revenue loss but the teachers they generate should be maintained for our class size project.

High schools in Ontario (but not in places like BC) maintain a very large lower academic stream known as the Applied stream in grades 9-10. This stream has lower class ratios. The Applied stream should be abolished as there is no need for it. All Applied kids should be redistributed across the academic stream since classes will be much smaller to accommodate them. This means about 3 Applied kids in a class of 15. This reform should be permanent.

Special Education is a tough one but here too, there are answers. Many students in Special Education (SE) are students with very mild Learning Disabilities (LD) . With classes of 15, they are much more easily mainstreamed full time into regular classes and may require just a little monitoring. Programs like ‘gifted’ classes will need to lose any special staffing ratios since they are already down to 15:1 Covid-19 ratios. The same can be done for ESL. Surely the level 3 and level 4 ESL students could simply be mainstreamed and monitored as well.

I’m afraid some programs may need to be suspended and return in a year or two if there is a vaccine. In high schools, any elective that does not draw 15 students will need to be cancelled for a year or two. Here we may find programs like co-op and guidance are somewhat unaffordable and schools with 3-4 guidance counsellors might have to drop to 1-2. We need to look at the library as well here. Even with all of this, some new teachers will have to be hired. The reorganization will not be quite enough. Busing for French Immersion will become increasingly unaffordable as the money is needed to support the regular program.

Physical Education (PE) is going to need a complete rethink. Contact sports will be out. Even calisthenics produces heavy breathing. Not very good. More time on the health curriculum may be just what we need. The gyms may be needed to accommodate the new class sizes since nobody will be building any additions. Portable classes however may be maxed out. Ontario kids are required to get one high school PE credit. This should be postponed indefinitely.

To accomodate much smaller classes, portables will not be enough. Students will need to eat lunch in an assigned classroom. Gyms, auditoriums, stages, even large vestibules may need to accommodate some classes. Even this may not be enough space. Local community centers, even places of worship may be required for enough teaching space.

Some teachers and administration will be angered by these suggestions but keep in mind, many regular classroom teachers might believe they have landed in clover. We can expect EQAO (Education Quality and Accountability Office) scores to actually rise if all teachers can actually teach and classes are 15 students. The “regular classroom teacher” might just become so enamoured of the complete reorganization of the system that they want to keep it this way indefinitely.



 Doug Little  has taught at every level of the Ontario school system from hard scrabble elementary and secondary schools for the urban poor to elite public schools in Toronto’s toniest neighbourhoods. He taught politics in two community colleges and  was a school trustee on the Toronto Board of Education (1980-85) and the Metro School Board (1983-85) where he crusaded for more support for Adult Literacy.

As an education writer for Now Magazine (1992-2003) Doug’s blunt and direct commentary rattled tea  cups from the Toronto board to the Ontario cabinet table.

He is a co-founder, editor and active contributor to the ground breaking education magazine Our Schools Ourselves now offered by The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. Doug was the founding editor of the Toronto secondary teachers (OSSTF) magazine D12 Voice, where he offered, once again, his trenchant analysis.