Ministry of Education, Ministry of Ministries , Factsheets

FACTSHEET: Class composition in British Columbia

Monday, May 26, 2014 10:00 AM

  • Class composition refers to the assignment of students to the right classroom in a way that recognizes their needs as individuals with unique abilities, challenges and aptitudes. Decisions on class composition are made by principals in consultation with teachers.  

  • Class composition requires professional judgement, discretion and flexibility to ensure the best possible learning environment for students. Factors that are considered include:

    • teacher workload and experience;
    • student preferences and aptitudes;
    • social and behavioural dynamics;
    • availability of educational assistants and other supports; and
    • students with identified special needs.

  • All students with designated special needs are entitled to an Individual Education Plan (IEP), which describes the goals set for each student, as well as the objectives and strategies for that student's education team. 

  • In 2013-14, there are 57,242 students with IEPs, which represents 10 per cent of all 558,985 public school students. Similar to the decline in total student enrolment, the number of students with IEPs has dropped from 66,530 in 2000-01 - a 14-per-cent decline.

  • More special-needs students are completing high school in B.C. than ever before. The six-year completion rate for students with special needs has increased from 33.4 per cent in 2000-01 to 58.7 per cent in 2012-13 (1,409 successful students in 2000-01 compared to 3,751 successful students in 2012-13).

  • Simply counting the number of students with IEPs provides no meaningful insight on class composition.   

  • Many students with special needs are very independent, highly functional, pose no disruption to the learning environment, and create no additional workload for the classroom teacher. By the same token, many students without IEPs can require significant additional supports or class management strategies.

  • There are 12 categories that cover a wide range of special needs, from children and youth with intellectual and physical disabilities, to gifted students, to those with sensory, emotional, or behavioural challenges, to those with health concerns such as asthma or epilepsy. 

  • The learning abilities of these students can range from those with serious intellectual challenges to those with exceptional gifts or talents.  

  • Even within the same diagnosed category the individual needs of students will vary dramatically, requiring a wide range of services or strategies to address their individual needs.  

  • Students with visual impairment may only require special reading equipment, while students with intensive behaviour interventions/serious mental illness may require the one-on-one supports.

  • Diagnosis of students has advanced with the practice of psychology and medicine. Over the years, the quality of the information provided to principals and teachers has improved considerably, allowing more students to get the help and support they need. 

  • Since 2000-01, funding for students with special needs has increased more than 60 per cent.  Government invests more than $1 billion annually for B.C. children and youth with special needs. In 2013-14: 

    • The Ministry of Education is providing more than $866 million to support all students with special needs. 

    • The Ministry of Children and Family Development is spending approximately $292 million to provide a full range of intervention and family-support services for approximately 30,000 children and youth with special needs and their families. 

  • Compared to 2000-01, there are 9,374 educational assistants (full-time equivalents) working in schools today - an increase of 2,775 full-time positions or 42 per cent. They provide extra help to students in regular instruction, career programs, aboriginal education, and special education.

  • The total number of classes with assigned educational assistants also increased by 60 per cent from 12,748 in 2005-06 to 20,368 in 2013-14. Approximately one in three classes in B.C. has an assigned educational assistant.

  • In 2013-14, 76 per cent of all K-12 classes (51,857 of 68,020 total classes) have three or fewer students with IEPs (25 per cent of all classes have no students with IEPs).

    • To better meet the learning needs of students, there has been a shift in the number of students with IEPs per class. Compared to 2005-06, there are 4,700 fewer classes that have three or fewer students with IEPs while the number of classes with four or more IEPs has increased by 5,221.

      • In 2005-06 there were 56,557 classes with three or fewer students with IEPs compared to 51,857 in 2013-14, a decline of eight per cent.

      • In 2005-06 there were 10,942 classes with four or more students with IEPs compared to 16,163 in 2013-14, an increase of 48 per cent.

  • Grouping more students together for support is designed to make better use of the significant increase in educational assistants and due to an expansion of specialized programs and courses specifically designed for students with special needs. 

  • Instead of an educational assistant being asked to split his/her time between four students in separate classrooms, it makes better sense to group the students together and have the educational assistant provide uninterrupted support to these students and their classmates. 

  • The number of classes designed specifically for special need students has increased from 273 in 2006-07 to 1,813 in 2013-14.  Examples include district courses where students with IEPs come together each day to work on their learning strategies to help them succeed across their other courses.  The focus is to improve their learning development and provide them with additional help while the students also benefit by earning course credits toward graduation.  

More information regarding students with special needs can be found on online at 

Media Contact:

Government Communications and Public Engagement

Ministry of Education

250 356-5963


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