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N.B. government promises new classroom composition, school funding models by 2025-26: report

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As part of its promise to improve the Anglophone education system, the New Brunswick government launched a report Tuesday outlining how it’s going to get there.

The report stems from a steering committee sparked by consultations in the winter of 2022-23 when the province attempted to change the system’s French immersion program.

That plan was scrapped, but the committee made short-term and long-term recommendations with a goal of finally addressing longstanding issues. On Tuesday, the committee co-chairs and Education Minister Bill Hogan released their roadmap on how to complete those long-term recommendations.

The first addresses chronic absenteeism. According to the department, in the 2022-2023 school year, a little more than 37 per cent of students grades K-5 were considered chronically absent.

That number was more than 45 per cent in middle and high schools.

Ardith Shirley, co-chair of the committee and executive director of the N.B. Teachers’ Association, says New Brunswick has, historically, seen a slightly higher rate of absenteeism than the rest of the country.

However, since the pandemic, all provinces are struggling with the problem.

“For every child that's missing, there's a family behind them or with them that is going through something. And we have, at times, the highest poverty rates in Canada. Sometimes children aren't in school because they're working to support their families. So I think we've got to be very realistic in New Brunswick about the challenges we face,” said Shirley.

The government is promising to develop an “absence intervention model” for all schools to adopt, with actions on how to curb the problem, but also what to do when a student becomes chronically absent. There will also be a public awareness campaign on why attending school is so important.

Some of the other promises include:

  • develop a new school funding model
  • ensure all schools see 30 minutes of physical activity for grades K-8
  • create a long-term teacher recruitment and retention plan
  • expand French course offerings, and track French oral language proficiency

Finding a new classroom composition model

The committee is also recommending a new classroom composition model be researched, developed and implemented. They’re going to launch pilot projects in different schools, encouraging new classroom and staff configurations and track their progress to see what works. Their aim is to have a model developed by early 2026.

The province will also be conducting a “whole-of-system review of the resources available to support student learning and ensure that the right resources are available to respond to the needs of students.”

Minister Hogan acknowledged that will mean reviewing collective agreements and working with unions to see if there are changes needed to ensure students’ needs are met.

“I think that we've tried a number of things over the years, and it's clear that when we continue to put money into the same thing and see the same results, it's not working. So we need to look at a variety of different methods,” said Hogan.

He said if a method is working, but needs more funding, he will consider that.

Classroom composition has been a challenging topic for the education system for some time.

Last month, child, youth and seniors advocate Kelly Lamrock unveiled a report looking at the entire social system – and the bureaucracy that, he says, can stop it from being successful.

He used one example of a family with children who needed extra resources at school. The school said it couldn’t provide those resources on a daily basis, and the students could only attend on a part-time basis.

“The parents had hourly shift work, so they had to quit their jobs because there was no way they could do both. And then they wound up on social assistance and then they lost their housing,” he said on March 11. “But then, of course, even when social development knew they were teetering on the brink of homelessness, they had to wait to lose their house and move further and further into more and more unstable housing. Then they were further away. They lost their cell phone. So the social workers, if they wanted to talk to them, had to drive an hour to the rural community.”

Hogan said there can be cases where students are assigned to be home for a part-time basis, but that they’re on an educational plan meant to help find a way for them to return to school fulltime.

“Our hope is that with a look at classroom composition through a more creative and different lens, that we can meet the needs of more students,” he said. “Just putting more bodies in the classroom doesn't necessarily mean you're going to have more success. Providing the appropriate supports when they're needed, and as long as they're needed, then that's where we'll see the most success.”

For more New Brunswick news visit our dedicated provincial page.

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