29 November 2016 |  No. 31-16  |  Download as PDF 

Class sizes in 2017 and the new certified agreement

Class sizes are fundamental working and learning conditions for teachers and students. The Department of Education and Training State School Teachers’ Certified Agreement 2016 states that “the parties acknowledge the fundamental importance of class size contributing to the learning outcomes of students and the health and welfare of teachers”. This is significant because it captures the shared position of the department and the QTU in relation to the importance of class sizes in schools.

The Department of Education and Training State School Teachers' Certified Agreement 2016, Part 2 – Working and Learning Conditions:

2.1 Class Sizes

2.1.1 Schools will be funded for staffing in accordance with a student/teacher ratio based on established class size targets. The parties acknowledge the fundamental importance of class size contributing to the learning outcomes of students and the health and welfare of teachers.

2.1.2 Accordingly, the Department is committed to the following maximum class size targets:

Prep, Years 1-3, Years 11-12.............25 students per teacher
Years 4-10...............28 students per teacher

2.1.3 The class size targets for composite classes are informed by the relevant year level target. Where composite classes exist across cohorts (e.g. year 3/4) the class target would be the lower cohort target.

2.1.4 Classroom teacher numbers are allocated for the purpose of facilitating class size target achievement as part of the school Day 8 staffing allocation. Classes in excess of these maximum target sizes should only occur in exceptional circumstances.

2.1.5 Where there is the possibility of class sizes in excess of these targets, the class arrangements shall be the subject of a timely, collaborative and consultative process with staff in accordance with the consultative principles contained in this Agreement including through the local consultative committee (LCC) in schools required to have one.

In addition, the agreement provides a provision in relation to the structure of composite classes. It is important to note that reduced class size targets have been secured through strategic, focused and successful campaigning throughout the 80s, and further successful campaigning tied to the 2003 certified agreement, which secured class sizes of 28 in years 4-10.

The funding of state schools is in accordance with student/teacher ratios based on established class size targets. The allocative model provides resourcing, not at the maximum class size, but at a figure that allows schools to staff within and below the targets. It is important to note that the maximum targets are not aspirational and should not “be exceeded except in exceptional circumstances.”

Exceptional circumstances

Exceptional circumstances are defined as rare, unusual, atypical or unexpected. Examples of exceptional circumstances may include:

  • enrolments late in the year
  • lack of availability of suitable facilities
  • the inability to recruit a teacher at the time the vacancy exists.

Where a pattern of enrolment can be identified as an exceptional circumstance (for example, term four resignation of a teacher rural P-10), the school’s or the system’s ability to manage the exceeding of maximum class sizes may be limited. In such rare circumstances, timely, collaborative consultation should lead to a management plan being devised that articulates the support for students and the teacher/s, having a focus on outcomes and health and welfare. Where a school is working through an exceptional circumstance, both regional HR and the QTU should be consulted.

What does timely consultation look like?

  • The principal and Union Reps meet to discuss the possibility of classes in excess of the relevant targets.
  • Options are developed to address the need for classes to be at or below the targets, such as considering composites, multi-age, school structures, infrastructure, over-allocation request, complexity, impact of workplace reforms and other school staffing decisions. 
  • Feedback is sought from staff and proposals adapted based upon the feedback and the obligations under the certified agreement.
  • The proposed model/models is presented to the LCC.
  • Review and further consultation are carried out if circumstances change.

Considerations in planning to stay below or at the class size limits

Principals lead their team in planning for the new school year, taking into account school needs such as predicted enrolment, local context in relation to student population and demographics.

A preference for a particular structure does not constitute an exceptional circumstance

There are a number of matters to consider in relation to staffing leading up to a new school year and post day 8. Firstly, if the numbers in a particular year level are creating pressure, it is important to recognise that a preference for avoiding composite classes in year levels does not constitute an exceptional circumstance. For example, sound knowledge of enrolment patterns may lead a school to plan for year one classes of 22, with a prep/one composite in the mix, knowing that post-day 8 there is a pattern in first term of late enrolments. Starting the year with classes near or at the maximums can create disruption, as classes need to be split or restructured during the year.

Review school based decisions that may be impacting

Schools considering managing class size patterns at, or beyond, the maximums should first consider whether workplace reforms or school-based resourcing of other roles have unintentionally undermined the school’s ability to deliver within the maximums. If this is the case, then the consultative process needs to explore solutions with a view to managing the matter at the immediate point in time, as well as in the long term, e.g. not continuing a trial workplace reform or not applying for the reform to be made permanent.

Initiate formal over-allocation processes

From time to time, midyear enrolment growth and/or a local context creates a pattern of growth that reasonably triggers a request to region for an over-allocation. In such circumstances, it is important to follow the consultative process as outlined in the certified agreement and involve regional personnel. Enrolments can deliver a pattern which clearly cannot be managed by creating composite classes (or would potentially create an unusual composite, e.g. a 2/6 composite). In such circumstances, the principal should follow the department’s over-allocation process, evidencing the enrolment pattern and seeking the provision of a further allocation to ensure class sizes are maintained within the targets.

The QTU has campaigned with members to address workload, and class sizes is one area where progress has been made. The new certified agreement ensures that consultation is formalised and that every effort be made to remain at or below the set class size target for each year level.

Teachers and school leaders who have questions about how the class size clause of the certified agreement should be applied in their context should contact their QTU Organiser or QTAD for assistance.

 Authorised by Graham Moloney, General Secretary, Queensland Teachers' Union