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'This should be unacceptable': ATA says class sizes too large, students lacking support

Students in a classroom in an undated file photo. Students in a classroom in an undated file photo.
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A recent survey suggests class sizes in the province are too high, and teachers believe some students are being left without the support they need to succeed.

The Alberta Teachers' Association (ATA) says public school staff and students continue to struggle with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, inadequate funding and decreased support from government.

"Teachers and school leaders report students below grade level, students struggling with social emotional needs and many other mental health challenges," said Jason Schilling, ATA president.

"On our latest survey, one teacher even commented, 'I feel more like a social worker or counsellor than a teacher.'"

Schilling said 85 per cent of teachers surveyed are seeing an increase in classroom complexity, with more students needing social, emotional, cognitive or behavioural support.

Additionally, more than half of survey participants reported long timelines for wrap-around services, he said, with some students waiting six months to a year for help with speech and language, occupational or physical therapy, and psychosocial education assessments.

"This means that we will have students in our classrooms, who end up going without the support they need to be successful for an entire school year," Schilling said. "This should be unacceptable to government, school boards and parents."

Class sizes are also an issue.

Of the almost 1,100 teachers surveyed between Sept. 29 to Oct. 11, 40 per cent said they have more than 33 students in their classes, with the largest class sizes seen in Grades 4 to 6.

In 2003, the Alberta Commission on Learning set out the following guidelines for class sizes: 23 students for Grade 4 to Grade 6, 25 for junior high and no more than 27 for high school.

The survey was the seventh of an ongoing research study on the impacts of the pandemic and curriculum implementation in Alberta.

Education Minister, Adriana LaGrange said $110 million has been allocated in the 2022 budget to address mental health impacts, access to assessments and learning disruptions.

In addition to that, she said the government has also doubled available funding to mental health and wellness pilots across the province.

'We are also working closely with school boards to alleviate the pressures on teachers by addressing enrollment growth, pandemic learning disruptions, class complexity and access to behavioral assessments," LaGrange said. 

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