Media releases | February 09, 2015

Public Interest Alberta releases survey report: “Alarm Bells Ringing: Voices from Schools”

EDMONTON—Representatives of Public Interest Alberta (PIA) today released a report summarizing what the organization heard about unacceptable classroom and school conditions around Alberta in a recent online survey. The survey was conducted in November and December of 2014, and asked teachers, parents, educational staff and students to describe the situation in their classroom and school.

“We decided to call the report ‘Alarm Bells Ringing’ because the stories we heard from teachers, parents and educational staff around the province were quite frankly cause for alarm,” said Bill Moore-Kilgannon, PIA’s Executive Director. “We heard from 434 individuals from schools in all corners of the province, and their accounts of their concerns and frustration with unacceptable classroom conditions are clearly disturbing, and should be of concern to everyone who cares about our public education system.”

“At the heart of most of the concerns was a troubling combination of growing class size, increasingly diverse and complex classroom composition, and a lack of resources to address the varied needs of children in those classes,” said PIA Education Task Force Chair Harold Neth. “The lack of support for students with special needs who have been included in ‘regular’ classrooms was a widespread concern and that there were particular difficulties in meeting the needs of English language learners and the impact of students with behavioural issues.

“When classroom conditions are unacceptable, everyone loses,” said Neth. “Children’s needs are not being met, parents are dissatisfied, teachers and support staff are frustrated, and the promise of public education is not being fulfilled as it should be.”

The report groups the concerns into seven categories, and the background document offers three excerpts from submissions to illustrate each of the seven areas. An overview of the survey results and a longer document with 72 selected responses is also available on the PIA website at www.pialberta.org.

A retired principal from Airdrie described his frustration as follows:

Recently teacher was bitten so badly blood was spurting out of her arm. These three are so labour intensive that other children in other grades with special needs get no service. No proper services for the three children. No proper supports for the staff team being pulled in to keep finger in the dike. Staff have been issued protective arm sleeves. Give me a break. This is not the role of the regular classroom teacher.

A Parkland parent, describing the frustration with the situation in her daughter’s Grade One class, wrote:

My daughter in grade 1 has been told to ignore the Kindergarten boy who repeatedly punches other students whenever he is upset. She came home and said, "It was my turn to get punched today Mommy."

“As an Educational Assistant I feel we are just running around putting on band-aids or putting out fires,” said Elaine Cardinal, Educational Assistant and UNIFOR Local 52-A representative. “We no longer have time to build relationships to help the students become successful in their classes.”

PIA task Force member, Larry Booi stated, “While we do not suggest that this survey is ‘representative’ of classrooms and schools in Alberta, the results clearly indicate that the problematic classroom conditions identified in the survey are negatively affecting the learning conditions for far too many children, especially given Alberta’s status as a wealthy province. Alberta’s government needs to listen to the voices from schools, and it absolutely needs to back away from the talk of further cuts to a system that is already struggling. It sounds like they are getting ready to pour gasoline on the flames, rather than putting them out.”

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The report, along with supplementary materials, is available here.

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