Surplus school capacity a hoax when class-size caps considered

The Editor:

Until recently, parents and media had to accept the statement from the UCDSB that there are “10,000 empty student spaces” in the school board.

But now the school board has explained how the study, using ministry guidelines, has calculated capacity. And it indicates that many of those empty seats in under-enrolled schools are an illusion. According to the recent FAQ (page 4),  capacity is determined in the following way for elementary schools:

  • the two Kindergarten classes are each “loaded” at 26 pupils
  • other classrooms are “loaded” at 23 pupils (even though most classroom caps are set at 20)
  • resource rooms are “loaded” at 12 pupils (!)

This means resource rooms such as a library, language room, and computer room each add 12 students to capacity. Even though the rooms are clearly meant to function in addition to classrooms, not as classrooms and technically shouldn’t add to capacity at all.

Let’s work a real example. Let’s imagine a nice little rural elementary school which has one classroom for each of JK, SK and grades 1 through 6. There is also a small library and a resource room used for music/French/computers, etc.

The Elementary Teachers Union of Ontario has published their own advice for the ideal number of students in each of these classrooms.

Class Size in Single Grade Classes
Junior Kindergarten 15 Students
Senior Kindergarten 16 Students
Grades 1, 2, 3 18 Students
Grades 4, 5, 6 (Junior) 20 Students
Grades 7, 8 (Intermediate) 22 Students

So our ideal rural school would have, according to the most knowledgeable professionals, a total capacity of 145 students. 

But what is the capacity of this school according to the ministry and therefore UCDSB? Using the formula above, which includes adding 12 extra students for each resource room, plus using the maximum amount of students in Kindergarten allowed by the province (26 pupils), the board and Ministry would calculate that this school’s capacity is 214 pupils.

214  vs. 145!

So this school – which the teacher’s union would consider to be at 100% capacity – is described by the board and Ministry as being at 67% capacity. In other words, at risk for closure.

If you don’t want to use the teachers’ numbers, you can use the ministry’s own numbers. Class sizes are generally capped at 26 for kindergarten and 20 for primary grades. So if this school had the maximum number of students, it would still have only 172 students, and it would still be considered at only 84% capacity by the Ministry.

So these “10,000 empty student spaces” don’t exist in the real world. But as a bureaucratic device to calculate capacity, these 10,000 empty spaces have the very real power to shut down schools.


John Ogilvie and Jeanie Warnock


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