Suggestions by the Ontario government that class size caps be lifted for primary students, or that full day kindergarten not be guaranteed beyond the 2019-20 school year (further complicated by the education minister’s announcement that full day learning, however would be guaranteed) have arguably been the predominant focus of the public’s concern about changes to K-12 education in the province and the impact on kids and classrooms.
But one proposal receiving comparatively less attention has been the question of whether to revisit a policy put in place by the previous Liberal government to ensure hiring of occasional teachers was based on qualifications and experience—seniority—rather than other factors (such as nepotism).
Education Minister Lisa Thompson maintains '"I'm hearing a lot that (Regulation 274) is impeding teacher mobility, it’s causing frustration with principals with regards to interviewing some of the qualified candidates, and I also want to check in to make sure” that hiring is transparent and equitable.'
Given the current political climate, it’s worth looking more closely at Regulation 274 which was implemented as a result of negotiations between teacher unions and the provincial government: why it was implemented, how it works, and whether the criticisms of it—which have periodically been raised since its implementation in 2012, in spite of discussions in rounds of bargaining to improve it by addressing concerns including mobility issues of moving between boards—are accurate. (Notably an independent external review requested by the provincial government in 2013 found most of the concerns with the regulation were unfounded.)
How are occasional teachers hired in Ontario?
School boards have two lists—a ‘roster’ of daily occasional teachers, and a long-term occasional (LTO) list from which management can hire teachers for longer-term jobs. The LTO list is ordered by seniority, and teachers must have a set level of experience to qualify for an interview to be on it. When a long-term job becomes available, the five most senior teachers who are qualified must be granted interviews for the position, and the principal must choose one.
But why can’t the principal pick someone more qualified but who isn’t on the list?
The notion that this somehow prevents principals from hiring the most ‘qualified’ candidate is false. Qualifications are laid out by Regulation 298 of the Education Act, and teachers must be certified by the Ontario College of Teachers (OCT) before they can work for a school board. In addition to being certified by the OCT, and having to hold the subject qualifications required by the position to which they are applying to, occasional teachers are vetted by a formalized interview process—consisting of panels of principals. In addition, formalized hiring processes take time and work, two things in short supply for education staff and workers—and principals are no exception—which may also account for some of the resistance to Regulation 274. But the idea that boards and principals don’t get a say in the hiring of qualified occasional teachers is simply untrue.
But what about subject areas that require specialization?
For secondary teachers, they must be qualified in the subjects that they are assigned to teach, with some exceptions where they can agree to teach a subject by mutual consent (both they and the principal have to agree). It’s worth noting that areas like Special Education and French as a second language (FSL) are ‘restricted’ subject areas, meaning that no teacher without these specific qualifications can be assigned to teach them. With the rapidly increasing demand for French Immersion programs, school boards are having difficulty finding enough qualified FSL teachers to add to their occasional teacher lists. Faculties of Education, citing budgetary concerns, have also cut programs in some areas such as Technological Education and Visual Arts, which means teachers with these qualifications are becoming harder to find. But this is a problem of supply—and in some cases points back to decisions made at the university level.
Are there problems with Regulation 274?
According to the legislation, when a long-term job becomes available, principals need to interview the five most qualified and senior candidates on the LTO list. But Regulation 274 is vague about how long the LTO list must be, and many boards have opted to keep theirs' very short. As a result, there often won’t be five qualified teachers in a subject area, which means that there will be fewer than five teachers for principals to interview when they have a position available at their school. It’s worth noting, however, that despite claims of Regulation 274 limiting principals’ ‘choice’, all the teachers on the LTO list have been vetted by the employer as qualified and available for hire. In addition, there is nothing to compel boards to have regular interviews for the LTO list—which means teacher candidates who meet the qualifications can be left waiting a long time before being contacted for an interview that would place them on the list.
What did occasional teacher hiring look like before Regulation 274?
In any workplace, management would like full control over who they choose to hire and fire, and historically unions have bargained constraints on that power. School boards are no different in this regard. Prior to Regulation 274, it didn’t matter if a principal hired their nephew over someone who had demonstrated loyalty and good performance. An occasional teacher with years of dedication to a school, including extracurricular activities, could easily be cast aside for a newer, much less experienced teacher at the whim of a principal. This could include passing over a long-time occasional teacher because they are pregnant, or maybe because they declined to take on a voluntary extracurricular activity this time around. If a new principal came into a school, they had the ability to pass over all the occasional teachers who had put years into the school and who knew the students and staff, and hire occasional teachers from their prior school. Sadly, the commonality of these practices is what caused education unions to bring them to the bargaining table in the first place in search of a more formalized and less subjective solution, that still provides principals and boards with flexibility and ensures qualified occasional teachers are working with our kids.
Chantal Mancini is a PhD candidate in the School of Labour Studies at McMaster University. A certified secondary school teacher, her research is on the impact of centralized education sector bargaining in Ontario on the democratic practices of teacher unions. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.