Page 2927 - Week 09 - Wednesday, 12 October 2022
Ninety per cent of principals and deputy principals who responded to the survey said that split, collapsed or cancelled classes negatively impact their staff. When a class is split or collapsed, class sizes can reach over 50 students. Schools are splitting or collapsing classes regularly, with 78 per cent of respondents saying that this occurs once a week or more, on average. For some schools it is an everyday occurrence, with 12 per cent of respondents saying that their school splits or collapses classes at least one class every day in an average week. This problem is getting worse. More than 80 per cent of respondents say that split or cancelled classes are more of an issue this year than in the past.
Naturally, we expected this topic to form part of the government’s position in the budget, but it did not appear to do so, so we inquired on this topic. During estimates we asked a straight-bat question on just how many classes were being combined and how often teachers were actually facing the sorts of class sizes noted in the union’s report. I must say that I was a little surprised that the minister was not prepared with an answer during those hearings. We put the question on notice, knowing that the directorate should be able to provide a response. The answer that we got was, “Class size information is not collected centrally.” I repeat: “Class size information is not collected centrally.”
That directorate, and therefore the minister, do not know what the extent of the problem is. How can you possibly provide a solution to the class size problem, then? It begs a further question: why is it not collected centrally? How can they deal with a problem that, according to 90 per cent of teachers, negatively affects staff, where 78 per cent say it occurs once a week or more and 12 per cent say it happens every day, and they do not even collect that information? How can this information not be collected, when teachers report having to teach classes of over 50, and 80 per cent say the problem is real and getting worse?
As I said, it is fundamental to understanding the problem and crucial in providing a solution that does not burn out teachers and disadvantage students. This is a failure of governance and highlights an appalling lack of support from the government of the territory. That is but one example that I have given you there, Mr Assistant Speaker.
Another troubling aspect of the management of our schools came to light when parents, students and teachers reported the loss of class spaces, and the fact that libraries and specialist teaching spaces were being lost. This led to reports of students being taught in hallways, in staffrooms or in rooms that used to be school libraries. Again, we asked a straight question as to what extent this problem was occurring. We asked how often it happened, which school cohorts were affected and how long students had been moved into these communal spaces instead of dedicated classrooms.
Here is the answer: “The directorate does not maintain a register of the use of communal multi-use spaces.” The response goes on to say that this is due to the fact that these arrangements are temporary, but without the data and information how can they know that? We know that many of these ad hoc classrooms are anything but temporary. It is certainly not the answer that teachers and parents need and deserve. It seems that, once again, the minister does not know the answer.