Students return to school in September. (Black Press files)

More students, more pressure in B.C. school system

Court ruling requiring smaller classes adds to space squeeze

Enrolment is up in 35 out of 60 B.C. school districts as more than 530,000 students head back to school this fall.

The net increase province-wide is about 1,700 additional full-time equivalents, including adult education students. The other 25 districts are predicting declines, but many are seeing small fluctuations in a stable student population.

“It’s quite a change since five or 10 years ago,” Education Minister Rob Fleming said. “At one time there were only one or two districts out of 60 that were growing.”

The fastest growing district per capita is Sooke on Vancouver Island, and the largest increase overall is once again in Surrey, which was the focus of last year’s provincial election debates around education.

In an interview with Black Press, Fleming acknowledged that Surrey school district is adding another 14 portables for this year, and stressed that eliminating portables there and elsewhere is a four-year commitment by the NDP government.

He said Surrey and other districts would be reducing portables by now if it were not for smaller class sizes reimposed by last year’s Supreme Court of Canada decision, which restored terms of the B.C. Teachers’ Federation contract removed in 2002. That has had a ripple effect as districts hired more than 3,000 more teachers and had to make space for them.

RELATED: Surrey’s portable classroom count rises to 347

The hiring flurry is mostly complete, with certified teachers outside the system being approached to come back part-time to replace substitutes who moved to full-time jobs.

The shortage of French teachers prompted Fleming to visit Europe on a recruiting trip this year, and new training spaces have been funded. Another shortage is math and science teachers in rural and remote districts.

RELATED: B.C. French immersion teachers in short supply

“We have inherited some pre-existing problems around shortages of specialist teachers,” Fleming said. “There was an active deterrent, for example, to become a special education teacher over the last 15 years because there was no work for them. The government was simply uninterested in hiring those types of specialist positions.”

The B.C. Public School Employers Association has set up a “one-stop” website for qualified teachers to review vacancies around the province, which is speeding the process up, Fleming said.

Students heading into grade 10 will be getting the new curriculum that has now been put in place from Kindergarten to grade nine and will carry on through the senior grades starting next fall. Its focus is on teamwork and critical thinking.

“Those are really important 21st Century skills in the workforce,” Fleming said. “The way the curriculum is taught, with group-based projects, a new feature called a capstone project that students will work on, are all designed to reinforce some of those critical skills that will teach students how to properly communicate and feel confident about the competencies that they’re developing.”


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