Detailed Issue Summary – Ontario

Detailed Negotiations Issues Summary – Ontario

(Also see Labour Negotiations > Q&A)

Seniority Hiring

Summary of the issue – Since 2012 Principals have had to make seniority a primary factor in the hiring of a new permanent teacher or a teacher on a contract shorter than one year. Before that a Principal was able to put the needs of her/his students ahead of all other factors in hiring.

This addition of seniority as a factor in new teacher hiring was put in place in 2012 at the request of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association (OECTA).

OECTA leadership had concerns about nepotism in Catholic schools. This addition of seniority was meant to address their concerns. Catholic School Boards, Deans of Education, parents, students, and many teachers objected to this seniority-based hiring process. Neither the Elementary Teachers Federation of Toronto (­ETFO) or Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation (OSSTF) raised this issue in their discussions with the Ministry or School Boards.

Because of wide-spread opposition, the government legislated seniority-based hiring of new teachers only into the collective agreements in Catholic and French School Boards.  It was not included in Public School Boards. Only a handful of Public School Board collective agreements include this condition.

The Ministry imposed this seniority-based hiring process on Public School Boards under regulation 274.

Unions want to include seniority hiring for new teachers in collective agreements. School Boards are resisting this Union request because it is bad for students, and because it is much easier for the Minister to repeal a regulation that it is to change the terms of a collective agreement.


Diagnostic Assessments to track year-over-year student progress

Summary of the issueDiagnostic assessment tools are used to identify in detail how a student is learning and what supports the student needs. These are not tests, and no marks are given. Instead, the assessment is designed to detect areas of strength and catch weaknesses in the student’s reading, writing, or math learning.

These assessments are most effective when they are used once or twice a year during the course of several years, so that changes to the student’s learning skills can be tracked over time. Consistent assessments lead to effective interventions to support a student’s learning needs.

If a student’s Grade 1 teacher uses assessment tool “X” and the Grade 2 teacher uses assessment “Y”, year-over-year tracking ability is completely lost. There is little value in assessing a student with one tool one year, and a different tool the next.

The rationale for the unions’ position is that teacher “professional judgement” should override consistency of assessment. It is interesting to note that the Ministry policy does include one exception to allowing teachers to use professional judgement in choosing assessment tools: all teachers must administer the Ministry-developed province-wide EQAO tests.

Since 2012, School Boards have been prevented from using consistent diagnostic assessment tools for students in all classrooms. In response to a request by the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association (OECTA), and over the objections of Deans of Education, School Boards, and parents, the Ministry gave individual teachers the authority to use whichever diagnostic assessment tool they preferred. The government legislated this into Catholic and French School Board collective agreements, but not those of Public School Boards.

Only a small handful of Public School Boards included this policy into their collective agreements. The Ministry issued a memorandum that imposed this policy on those Public School Boards without it in the collective agreements.

Unions want to include the Ministry policy related to teacher choice, and timing, of diagnostic assessments in collective agreements. School Boards are resisting this Union request because it is bad for students, and because it is much easier for the Minister to repeal a policy than it is to change the terms of a collective agreement.



Out-of-the-classroom Supervision

Summary of the issue – Current collective agreements set a cap on how many minutes per week a teacher can be asked to spend supervising students at recess, lunch, before and after school, and in hallways. Principals need the ability to ask teachers, as needed, to spend more time supervising students during recess, at lunch and in the halls. This would improve the safety of students, help build trust between students and teachers, and give teachers an opportunity to help marginalized and/or disengaged students feel better about being at school.

As the rules now stand, the cap for elementary teachers is about 16 minutes each day, and about 4 minutes per day for secondary teachers.

These restrictions are a factor in the move to close small local elementary schools.  An elementary school needs more than 350 students to schedule two teachers for supervision at the start and end of the school day, during recess, and during lunch. A school yard that has hidden areas typically requires three or more teachers to properly supervise students. To fill the resulting supervision gap, School Boards frequently hire lunchroom supervisors and hall monitors. Neither of these positions is paid for under the Ministry funding formula.

School Boards are asking that the caps on supervision time be raised. It seems that the Unions have completely rejected this request.


The maximum number of students that can be in Secondary school classes­

Summary of the issue – In some School Boards’ collective agreements, there are rigid caps on the number of students who can be in a secondary class (this varies by type of course being taught). The Ministry provides a School Board only enough money for hiring teachers to meet an overall student-to-teacher ratio. As a result, making the arithmetic to work out means a school can’t offer all the courses, especially in maths, sciences, languages, and the arts, that students need to take to be prepared for their desired post-secondary programs.

On the one hand, it is good for schools to avoid large classes. A large class reduces the amount of time the teacher can spend with each student, as well as the ability of the teacher to provide rapid, detailed feedback after marking student work. On the other hand, there are cases in which giving a Principal the flexibility to a set up a slightly larger class size can increase the support given to students.

School Boards are asking that Principals have a little flexibility to increase class size if needed. Unions are resisting this request.  The Unions seem to want to have rigid maximum class size rules.

  • Secondary school students need access to a wide variety of courses to prepare them for their post-secondary programs.  A small amount of flexibility in maximum class size, under specific circumstances, could give a secondary school the ability to offer an advanced calculus class, or a history class taught in French to allow students to earn their French Immersion diploma.
  • In both elementary and secondary, having even one student over a hard cap can force the setting up of two very small classes, increasing costs over that provided by the Provincial funding formula, and forcing the Board to eliminate other valuable but non-compulsory student supports (eg. speech and language specialists, bussing, and music).
  • The Ministry often sets policies that change class sizes.  A recent one was the introduction of full day kindergarten (which funded average class sizes of 26), and which replaced the primary class size cap (which required 90% of classes at 20 or less and only 10% between 21 and 23).  In several Boards the primary class size caps were included in the collective agreement.  These Boards were forced to have smaller full-day kindergarten classes than the Ministry was funding, causing them to eliminate other much-needed student supports.
  • In elementary schools, hard class-size caps increase the number of split grade classrooms, particularly in schools of less than 350 students.  While the research is mixed on whether or not split classes benefit students, many parents and teachers strongly prefer single grade classrooms.



Principal’s ability to provide effective school leadership

Summary of the issue – Research consistently shows that teachers are best able to exercise their professional judgement, and have greater job satisfaction, when there is effective school leadership.

Among the provisions that I’d like to change are those that prevent Principals from having a say in how teachers use their prep time. Elementary teachers have 240 minutes per week of prep time, and secondary teachers have 375 minutes per week. We have no problem with the amount of prep time teachers have. We just think that the Principal should be able to direct some of it to foster a consistent “culture of learning” and high expectations for all students.

It is our experience that students learn from the whole school staff over the course of their school years, not just from an individual teacher in a single year. Every student has more than one teacher every year, and will typically have more than a dozen teachers during her/his time at a school. The best student learning happens in a school where all the adults work together as a team, led by an effective Principal.

Summary of the issue – Over the years collective agreement negotiations and arbitrator decisions have eroded a Principal’s ability to coordinate the activities of teachers in the school.

As noted above, elementary teachers are given 240 minutes per week of non-teaching “prep time” (16% of the instructional day); secondary teachers are given 75 minutes per week (25% of the instructional day). Elementary Principals have no say in what a teacher does during this time; Secondary Principals have only a very little say.

Properly used, prep time leads to better learning. Most teachers use their prep time as it is intended: assessing the students’ work, planning lessons, or meeting with specialists, colleagues and parents to discuss how to best support a student. But schools are more than a collection of individual teachers; it is a team that works together effectively to support student well-being and achievement. And effective team-work means lots of coordinated communication and coordination.

Putting a significant portion of teacher prep time use at the discretion of the Principal will improve the ability of the whole teaching team to work together to support the students in the school, and will go a long way toward establishing a culture of consistent expectations centered around student needs.

School Boards are asking that some of the restrictions on Principals be removed from the collective agreements. Unions are resisting this request.