10/30/2014 10:11 EDT | Updated 12/30/2014 05:59 EST

Nova Scotia teachers should be fired for poor performance, review says

HALIFAX - School boards in Nova Scotia should have the authority to fire teachers for substandard performance and students should spend more time in the classroom, says a review that gives the province's education system a failing grade.

A report released Thursday makes 30 recommendations calling for improvements in seven key areas including curriculum, teaching and the structure of the school system.

Former lieutenant-governor Myra Freeman, who led the six-member panel that examined the school system, said half of the 19,000 people who took online surveys as part of a public consultation process were dissatisfied.

"The results are not acceptable," said Freeman. "They voiced a large number of concerns about an education that has changed very little in the last 50 years."

The 60-page report recommends better alignment between a teacher's qualifications and what they teach as well as mandatory performance appraisals.

As part of that appraisal system the report says school boards should be given the power to dismiss teachers who under-perform.

Education Minister Karen Casey said some of the changes would likely clash with the collective agreement with the teachers' union. She said that may be especially true when it comes to the hiring of new teachers and ensuring they instruct in their areas of expertise while other, more senior teachers are still employed.

"There is a seniority clause and that often inhibits or limits the ability to have that outcome realized," said Casey.

She said she plans to meet with the union's leadership next week to discuss the report.

Shelley Morse, the president of the Nova Scotia Teachers' Union, said changes concerning seniority provisions of the collective agreement would have to be negotiated and wouldn't be given up voluntarily.

"It's in our contract, so I can't speak about what we would do with articles in our contract until we are at the negotiating table," said Morse.

She said it was too early to say what the recommended changes may mean for issues such as performance. But she was against a recommendation that says removing principals, superintendents and other supervisory staff from the union should be considered.

"That would be something that would not please me. We have run on a collegial model for a number of years and that has always worked well."

The report also recommends a redesign of the early elementary curriculum to focus primarily on math and literacy skills and says gaps must be addressed at the junior and senior high school levels in areas such as science, technology, math and financial literacy.

It says the number of credits required for graduation from high school should be increased from 18 to 21 and the number of free periods should be reduced to a maximum of three in Grades 11 and 12.

Freeman said there was little feedback from the public on the question of how long school days should be, but the recommendation increasing the number of credits required while decreasing students' free time would see them spending more time in class.

The report also says the system of inclusion for students with special needs isn't working and there needs to be broader support for resources already in place as well as more highly qualified specialist teachers to assist where appropriate.

Casey said further consultations will be held with teachers, parents, school boards and other groups involved in the school system before issuing the government's formal response in January.

She said it was likely the first significant changes in the system wouldn't happen until the next school year.

"But if there is something we can do short-term within the budget we have, we certainly would look at that," said Casey.

The final cost for the report isn't in yet, but Casey said about $110,000 has been spent on the panel's work.

It's been 25 years since there has been a comprehensive review of Nova Scotia's education system.