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A Brief to the Ministry of Education from the BC Teachers’ Federation, August 2017 

Inclusive Education

The issue

BC’s inclusive public education system is based on the principle that all students, including those with diverse physical, cognitive, cultural, and linguistic needs, are “fully participating members of a community of learners.”1 As such, all BC children and youth are fully entitled to “equitable access to learning, achievement and the pursuit of excellence in all aspects of their educational programs.”2

The pursuit of an equitable, inclusive public education system has been thwarted, however, by a myriad of provincial policy, funding and staffing challenges since 2002, when the then newly elected BC Liberal government removed class-size and composition language from the collective bargaining process. While ultimately rectified by the restorative Supreme Court of Canada ruling in November 2016, that policy decision—along with chronic systemic underfunding—has resulted in a generation of students with significant and diverse needs going without timely assessment and identification; sufficient integrated classroom, school, and clinical supports; and equitable access to quality public education opportunities.


The following table shows the difference in Full-Time Equivalent (FTE) learning specialist teachers between the years 2001–02, and 2015–16:3
Full-time equivalent learning specialist teachers between the years 2001-02 and 2015-16

Compared to 2001–02 there were:

  • almost 1,000 fewer special education teachers in 2015–16.
  • 357 fewer teacher-librarians to support students to develop language, literacy, and research skills in the 21st century.
  • 121.5 fewer counsellors to support students with emotional, social and mental health issues.
  • 218.6 fewer English Language Learning teachers for students newly arrived in Canada.
  • 8.7 fewer Aboriginal Education teachers at a time when there are new educational initiatives to raise awareness of Aboriginal culture within BC schools and to provide a more culturally meaningful education for Aboriginal students.

While the Supreme Court ruling, and subsequent memorandum of agreement between the BC Public School Employers’ Association, Ministry of Education, and British Columbia Teachers’ Federation, promises the restoration of a significant number of specialist teaching positions, ongoing systemic underfunding means that, realistically, the return to full-service needs-based assessments, and a sustainable supply of staffing and resources is still a precarious outcome.

In addition, significant research into the theories, practice and policies of inclusion since 2002 compel educational stakeholders to re-envision BC’s systemic intentions and definitions of what inclusive classrooms, pedagogy, and services might look like, and how this vision will be reflected in provincial policy and collective bargaining language that supports teachers’ working environments, and their ability to effectively meet the needs of all their students. 

The restoration of a robust, inclusive public education system will require:

  1. the articulation and implementation of progressive education policies
  2. the adoption and funding of evidence-based inclusive education practices
  3. the intentional recruitment and retention of inclusive education teachers and clinical practitioners
  4. Ministry-BCTF collaboration to enhance system-wide professional learning opportunities and manageable classroom conditions as part of a “wrap around” approach for meeting the needs of all students, and the particular specialized needs of those students with additional challenges.

Key recommendations

Recommendation 1

Provide stable, predictable, and adequate funding to enable school districts to fulfill their responsibility to provide:

  1. early and timely identification and designation of students with special needs.
  2. adequate wrap around services and supports, including full team complement staffing, services, and technology (e.g., learning support teachers, occupational therapists, Special Education Technology BC).

Recommendation 2

Review BC Ministry of Education funding formulas and caps for programs and services for families of students with special needs, to bring them into alignment with other Canadian jurisdictions.

Recommendation 3

Increase availability of and access to professional development, in-service, and specialist training for both general and specialist teachers on inclusive education theory and practice. These opportunities should be more widely available in all areas of the province, regardless of where a certificate holder is working.  

Recommendation 4

Work in collaboration with the BCTF and other educational stakeholders to develop a sustainable and evidence-based model of inclusive education policy and curriculum, and collective bargaining and staffing language and approaches. 

Further reading

British Columbia Teachers Federation. (2016). Education funding: Brief to the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services. BCTF: Vancouver, Canada.

Government of British Columbia. (2016, April). Special education services: A manual of policies, procedures and guidelines. BC Ministry of Education: Victoria, Canada.

1 Government of British Columbia, 2016, p.2.

2 Ibid.

3 BCTF Research table: totals calculated with figures from BC Ministry of Education, Staff by Year and Program Code (unpublished Form 1530 data, various years).

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