New stats show class sizes in B.C. schools are steadily growing

Number of classrooms with support workers for students with special needs has also risen

Class sizes in British Columbia are creeping up, while the number of classes with more than 30 students is steadily rising, new statistics released this week by the province show. 

The number of classrooms supported by an education assistant — a trained support worker for students with special needs who is not a teacher — has also risen 10 per cent from last year, the stats show. 

In previous years, the government has released class size and class composition numbers simultaneously, but this year it released class size numbers first and will release the rest in a couple of weeks. 

These statistics reveal a lot about how schools are managed. They’re particularly interesting over the past couple of years because they show the impact of the teachers’ win at the Supreme Court of Canada, which restored collective agreement provisions that were wiped out in 2002. 

Readers will have to wait a bit longer for information about class composition, which is how many students with special needs are included in classrooms. But this year’s class size numbers reveal interesting trends province-wide. 

Here are the high-level figures:

  • the average kindergarten class in the province has 18 students, up from 17.8 last year
  • the average Grade 1 to 3 class has 19.9 students, up from 19.4 last year
  • the average Grade 4-7 class has 23.9 students, up from 23.3 last year
  • and the average Grade 8-12 class has 22.1 students, up from 22 last year.

While those increases may seem so slight to be meaningless, it’s interesting to note they are all up over last year. When compared to 2006-07, a time when the contracts were stripped, they’re all down. 

Drilling down into specifics is where it gets even more interesting. The number of classes with an education assistant rose by nearly 2,000, or seven per cent, across the province. That either shows a huge increase in the number of students with special needs or a shift in how classroom make up is managed. Thirty-five per cent of classes across the province have an education assistant. 

In Vancouver alone, there are 15 elementary schools where every single classroom has an education assistant supporting the teacher. In the city’s secondary schools, the numbers swing widely — at Killarney, Hamber, Prince of Wales and Magee less than 10 per cent of classes have an education assistant, while at Britannia, Byng, Templeton, King George and Point Grey, the rate is double.

Some of the lowest rates of classrooms with education assistants are found in Burnaby (17 per cent), Vancouver (20 per cent), West Vancouver (21 per cent) and Richmond (23 per cent). 

The number of classes with more than 30 students also rose this year, from 757 last year up to 812 this year, or an increase of seven per cent. Before the court win, that number was 1,385, so it’s still a significant long-term reduction. 

A look at specific districts reveals some interesting outliers, however. For classes with more than 30 students, Abbotsford has just one (0.07 per cent) and Richmond has only seven (0.2 per cent), while in Delta, there are 86 (3.9 per cent) and in North Van, 68 (2.5 per cent). Vancouver lies just at the provincial average of one per cent. 

No Vancouver elementary school classes have more than 30 students. Across secondary schools, again, the numbers vary widely. Churchill, Britannia, Windermere and John Oliver have less than one per cent, while Magee, Point Grey and Lord Byng have close to three per cent of classes with more than 30 students. 

Abbotsford schools are in the top three provincially for biggest average class sizes, for all age groups. For Grades 8 to 12, Delta classes are notable for having the highest average size in the province — more than 25 students. 

In Vancouver, the secondary schools with the biggest average class sizes are Kitsilano, Byng and Churchill, with more than 24 students in an average class. At the lower end are King George, Gladstone, John Oliver and Britannia, with fewer than 22 students in an average class. There are 60 elementary schools in Vancouver with an average class size for Grades 4 to 7 that is higher than the provincial average of 23.9 students. 

This column won’t attempt to answer why the figures vary across the province, except to say that while there are provincial standards for class size for kindergarten through Grade 3, class sizes for Grades 4 through 12 are governed by collective agreements, which vary from district to district. For class composition, which would influence the number of classes with an education assistant, there are no provincial rules and about one-third of districts don’t have any collective agreement rules. When the class composition numbers come out in a week or two, more of the story will unfold. 

tracy.sherlock@gmail.com