Ontario will have 10,000 fewer teaching positions in its public schools over the next five years as a result of increases to class sizes announced by Doug Ford’s government, according to an analysis by the legislature’s financial watchdog.

The province’s Financial Accountability Office (FAO) said on Thursday that if the government had maintained previous class size averages, there would have been 994 more elementary teaching positions and 9,060 more high-school teaching positions in the education system by the 2023-24 academic year. The FAO projects that increasing class sizes will save the province $2.8-billion over the next five years.

The changes to class size announced by Mr. Ford’s government in the spring has caused a lot of uncertainty in the education sector. Class size averages are to increase by one student in Grades 4 through 8, while high-school averages would see the biggest jump: increasing to 28 students from 22, over the next four years.

This is the first year of the changes and school boards have cut or scaled back courses, including classes in history, science and geography. Others have said that average class size increases would result in fewer specialized course options for students and could ultimately affect graduation rates.

The FAO analysis differs from the government’s numbers released earlier this year, which estimated that 3,475 teaching positions would be phased out over the next four years. A government spokeswoman said its numbers reflect fewer teachers in the system than are currently in the profession.

In an e-mailed statement on Thursday, Education Minister Stephen Lecce said the FAO report “affirms our plan to ensure students are set up for success for the jobs of the future.”

The government has said there would be no layoffs from changes to class sizes and that teaching positions would be lost through attrition, meaning that educators who retire or voluntarily leave their job would not be replaced. It also created a $1.6-billion fund for school boards to avoid teacher layoffs.

Mr. Lecce added that the FAO “confirmed what we have been saying all along: No teacher will lose their job as a result of our class size policy.”

However, Charles Pascal, a former Ontario deputy education minister and a professor at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto, said the FAO report is further proof that the government’s changes to class sizes will make it more difficult for new teachers to enter the province’s education system.

“Another consequence of the short-sightedness of this massive reduction will be the dashed hopes of so many teacher-candidates who provide new energy and ideas to our excellent education work force,” he said.

Harvey Bischof, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, said students are already feeling the effects of changes to class sizes. He said he has heard of classes with 40 or more students, and of students who can’t access the courses they need to enter a postsecondary program.

The government, Mr. Bischof said, “has no credibility left on the education file.” His union, along with all other education unions, are negotiating new contracts, and class sizes are a key issue. Contracts expired Aug. 31.

“[The FAO report] points to how devastating this government’s cuts to student services really are,” Mr. Bischof said. “The quality of education is going to be massively affected by a 10,000-teacher reduction.”

NDP education critic Marit Stiles said fewer teachers in the classroom will hurt students in “every region of our province.”

“Parents and educators are sounding alarm bells about the negative impact these cuts will have on our education system – damage that will only get worse as our population grows over time,” she said in a statement.

The Globe and Mail, September 26, 2019