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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 18, Number 1, September 2005

Classroom study results: Special-needs support inadequate

Evidence from a study involving over 14,500 B.C. teachers shows that prolonged underfunding and the loss of hundreds of specialist teachers is taking its toll in the classroom.

In January 2005, the BCTF sent a questionnaire to all teachers in the province asking them to reflect on their teaching experiences today and in the past. A series of questions from the study focusing on teaching students with special needs are highlighted in this report.

As many teachers know first hand, there has been an increase in the number of students with special needs in their classrooms at the same time that adequate resources for all students have decreased.

Lack of financial support¹—funding of the K–12 education system in real per-pupil dollar amounts has declined steadily over the last four years and a substantial decrease in support teachers² are just two of the ways resources have been eroded.

The impact of these changes are reflected in the teaching and learning conditions study results, both in the quantitative data and in extensive written comments.

When asked if there were more students with special needs in their classes now than in the past, over 77% of teachers agreed or strongly agreed that this was so. Just under 87% of teachers also indicated that students in their classes had a wider range of needs than in past years. The following are representative of many of the comments teachers provided.

"Far too many cutbacks in my area, overwhelming numbers, increase in complexity of students. The service I provide is completely inadequate to meet the needs of speech-language impaired students."

"I currently enrol a class of 24. Within that I have two students with autism, a student who is severely hearing impaired, and a student with moderate behaviour, three students who receive ongoing counselling for emotional support, four students who receive speech therapy, and seven students who receive student support. I’m spending nights and weekends just trying to stay ahead!"

"The growing number of students that require extra support and assistance is placing a lot of pressure and stress on classroom teachers and those that are trying to provide support."

Unfortunately, increased need has not meant increased support or resources.

Teachers were asked to indicate the extent to which they agreed with the statement that "Adequate special education assistant time is available to each student who needs it." An overwhelming 82% of teachers disagree with this statement. Indeed, over 43% disagreed and an additional 39% strongly disagreed with the statement.

Similar results were found when teachers were asked if students with special needs received adequate direct support from specialists such as speech/language pathologists. Over 41% disagreed and 37% strongly disagreed that this was so.

The adequate provision of specialist support for students with special needs is important for all students in a class. Those with special needs require extra support and other students need the attention of their teacher. However, a full 72% of teachers disagreed that, given the composition of their classes, they receive the help they need to teach all of their students.

For more information on this study go to the Working and Learning Conditions web site at bctf.ca/bargain/wlc.

Visit the Teaching To Diversity web site, bctf.ca/TeachingToDiversity, for information, resources, and contracts relevant to meeting the needs of students who receive special education, learning assistance, or ESL services.

¹In 2001–02, the real per-pupil funding amount was $6,700. In 2004–05 it had dropped to $6,540, a decline of $230 per pupil. The $150 million increase for 2005–06 gives a much needed boost to the system, but the result is still $108 per student less than the 2001–02 funding level.

²Prior to the introduction of Bill 28 early in 2002, learning assistance and special education resource teachers were "provided on a pro-rated basis" that ensured the teacher/student ratio did not fall below a certain point. Following the removal of support provisions from the collective agreement there was a loss of almost 230 full-time equivalent special education teachers.

– Colleen Hawkey, BCTF Research Division

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