SURREY – – With the New Year underway, contract talks have resumed between education minister Peter Fassbender and the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation (BCTF). Right off the bat, the BCTF has come out swinging by saying class composition is the worst it’s ever been in the province.
In a release sent out last week, the BCTF claims cuts by the B.C. government in recent years has led to the near doubling of classrooms with four or more children with special needs. Using data gleaned from the Ministry of Education, the BCTF shows that in the 2006-2007 school year, B.C. had 9,559 classrooms with four or more special needs students. That number has steadily risen over the last seven years and now sits at 16,163 for the current school year. Additionally, 3,875 B.C. classrooms have seven or more children with special needs in them.
"B.C. teachers fully support including all students, like those with special needs, in our classrooms, but 12 years of cutbacks has meant those kids are not getting the support they need," said BCTF president Jim Iker.
Iker went on to note that the increase in classrooms with more special-needs students came at the same time the government was approving cuts to learning specialist teachers.
"Class composition is one of the most important aspects in education. An overly complex class puts immense pressure on the teacher to meet the needs of all students," said Iker. "As teachers, we fully support and embrace diversity in learning styles and needs in our classrooms, but we can only do so much without extra support before students lose out."
Education minister and Surrey-Fleetwood MLA Peter Fassbender said the numbers were accurate, but noted that they may be being taken out of context.
"They’ve got numbers off our website, but what you have to do is look at them from the context of the reality of the classroom," said Fassbender. "When people face special
needs it is such as complex and diverse issue to talk about because special needs is not always children that are dysfunctional in the classroom or causing disruption, there’s a whole host and spectrum of special needs."
Fassbender said the BCTF has been known to release funding statements like this during difficult rounds of bargaining, but that they shouldn’t skew the overall big picture.
"In reality we have worked very hard to find the balance for class sizes, we are not the worst in this country by any stretch of the imagination and you have to be careful about how you look at numbers and take them out of context," he said.
"We are committed to making sure we have the best education system we can. I urge the BCTF to work with us with other venues to make sure we keep our eye on that."
As for bargaining, Fassbender said negotiations were still ongoing and he remains committed to working with the BCTF toward a 10-year deal.
"We’re committed to working for 10 years of stability and looking to the issues that are important," he said.