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Many Ontario schools facing daily staff shortages, data suggests

More than a quarter of Ontario public schools are dealing with daily teacher shortages, according to a new survey. (iStock - image credit)
More than a quarter of Ontario public schools are dealing with daily teacher shortages, according to a new survey. (iStock - image credit)

As Ontario's public schools struggle with staffing, over a quarter of schools report being unable to fully staff teachers each day, while nearly half are dealing with daily shortages of educational assistants, according to a new survey.

In a report released Sunday, the advocacy group People for Education found that 24 per cent of elementary schools and 35 per cent of secondary schools are experiencing daily teacher shortages.

Shortages are even higher for educational assistants, who support children with special needs, with nearly half of elementary and secondary schools reporting they're short-staffed each day.

Findings from the report are based on 1,030 responses to an annual survey, collected from principals across 70 of Ontario's 72 publicly funded school boards. This represents 21 per cent of the publicly funded schools in the province.

Graphs from a new survey on staffing shortages at Ontario's public schools.
Graphs from a new survey on staffing shortages at Ontario's public schools.

Graphs from a new survey on staffing shortages at Ontario's public schools. (People for Education)

In light of these staffing shortages, the survey found principals across the province were spending more of their time finding emergency replacements and dealing with scheduling, to the detriment of other administrative and educational duties.

Shortage impacts everyone, says advocate

Lara Totayo says short-term substitutes have been a problem in her child's class. Totayo's daughter is enrolled in an elementary French immersion program in the Toronto District School Board, and Totayo says she's had six different teachers this year, after the classroom's usual teacher went on leave.

Totayo says she feels her daughter's class isn't getting a true education as a result. She says her daughter is getting As and Bs in class, even though Totayo sees her struggle when they go over her homework, and her teacher hand wrote the wrong first name on her daughter's report card.

"It's the kids who are suffering," she said.

While Totayo's daughter has a rotating cast of educators, some shortages aren't being filled at all.

Sometimes, shortages can't be filled. The survey found more than half of secondary school principals and nearly two-thirds of elementary school principals have asked parents to keep their child with special needs home for the day, when an educational assistant can't be found. Principals reported the lack of support for these students is sometimes leading to behavioural problems at school.

"There's a sense that there's a kind of incipient crisis going on here that we're not paying enough attention to," said Annie Kidder, president of People for Education. "We're lucky enough to live in Canada. More than 90 per cent of our kids go to public school. In Ontario, it's even higher. We kind of take the whole thing for granted."

Kidder says all Ontarians should be concerned, not just parents and school children.

"These are our next generations we're educating here," she said.

Province working to address shortages

In an emailed statement, Isha Chaudhuri, a spokesperson for Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce said the province is trying to address a growing population and an increasing number of retiring teachers. Chaudhuri says the province is working on a "suite of actions" to address shortages, including the formation of a committee looking at best practices for recruitment and retention of educators.

"We will continue to advance short and long-term reforms to ensure certified educators are supporting students as we get back-to-basics in the classroom," she said.

Teacher shortages are a problem that currently extend right across the country. Next door, Quebec started the current school year with a shortage of more than 8,500 teachers. While in B.C., 80 per cent of teachers who responded to an annual union survey said they were unable to effectively support students last year due to staffing shortages.

The People for Education report made three recommendations for Ontario in light of staff shortages. The advocacy group recommends the province create a task force made up representatives from around the educational system to address shortages. It also recommends the province re-examine the roles of educational assistants and principals, and determine what funding and supports they need to fulfil their duties.