On October 15, the province announced a major change to the Education Act: as of next week, the requirement that teachers be hired based on seniority instead of merit will no longer be in effect.
Minister of Education Stephen Lecce said in a statement that “revoking Regulation 274 is about students, families, and the communities they live and work in. It is about giving school boards more flexibility so they can hire the best, most qualified candidates, especially now as they face increased staffing challenges.”
But not all teachers’ unions support the move — or its timing, coming as it does during an unprecedented period of disruption in the education system.
Introduced in 2012 by the Liberals, the regulation stipulated that teachers who’ve spent the longest on the province’s supply list must be considered first for new long-term and full-time positions. This issue of merit versus seniority has been the cause of a long-standing battle between the government and teachers. Last year, the province tried to revoke the regulation but backed down after negotiations with the unions.
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Liz Stuart, president of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association, tells TVO.org that “there is no evidence that Regulation 274 is an impediment to increasing diversity in the teaching profession and references a 2014 study, commissioned by the Ministry of Education, that found that, where hiring issues persisted, they were a result of school boards finding workarounds to reduce or avoid the requirements of the regulation.
Sam Hammond, president of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, also expresses support for regulation 274, calling it a “fair and predictable pathway to long-term and permanent employment in Ontario’s public school boards for qualified educators including recent graduates.”
Some teachers, though, say that the regulation prevented talented young educators from gaining permanent employment and failed to recognize that years of experience do not guarantee quality teaching. “I didn’t even bother to apply [to be a supply teacher], because I knew it could take many years before I could get a permanent position,” says Catherine Panagakos, a high-school social-studies teacher in Nunavik. She was previously a resident of Ontario, she says, but left because of the seniority system: “Even though I am an excellent teacher, someone with more years will always have an advantage.”
But many teachers believe that completely revoking the resolution isn’t the best solution and that some balance should be struck between merit and seniority. “I hope that eliminating regulation 274 won’t be a case of tossing the baby out with the bathwater,” says Jason Bradshaw, a science teacher in Brampton. “Working as intended, 274 opened doors for often overlooked candidates and prevented nepotism that has been known to occur. But its rigidity also kept extremely talented and dedicated teachers from staying in positions where they were making fantastic contributions to their school community.”
Bradshaw sees a hybrid model as the most equitable way forward, “Administrators should have the flexibility to hire in a way that meets the unique needs of their school communities. But, at the same time, instances of nepotism and inherent biases in hiring shows that some oversight is needed.”
Regardless of their position on the resolution itself, some question the way in which the government’s decision was made and say that there was no consultation with those most affected: teachers. “Minister Lecce has never been a teacher,” says a history instructor from Halton region who asked that their real name be withheld. “Lecce has no idea what the process is or what it is like in schools, because he isn’t an educator.”
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Education told TVO.org via email that, last year, the government “undertook a two-part consultation to gather input from education partners and stakeholders, including teachers, about teacher hiring practices and the impact of O. Reg. 274/12” and that the feedback received “demonstrated support for change.”
Still others have issues with the timing and say that, during the pandemic, the government should be focused first and foremost on the health and safety of students. “They need to slow down. We reopened too soon and are about to upend everything that has been established,” says a Grade 7 homeroom teacher from Hamilton who asked that their real name be withheld. “The merit system does make sense, but it has to be done in such a way that everyone has equal opportunity: that’s what Regulation 274 does.”
This article has been updated with comment from Ontario's Ministry of Education.