The Ford government’s plan to reduce teaching positions in Ontario will have widespread effects on the education system, the provincial teachers union says.

According to the four-year plan, by 2022, Ontario’s education system will have nearly 3,500 fewer teachers.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Education said the losses will be as a result of attrition and voluntary packages. The total anticipated savings for those positions being phased out is said to be $851 million, though it’s not clear how that number breaks down.

“It’s a massive reduction,” Harvey Bischof, the president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF), told CTV News Toronto.

“I’ve been in education for 29 years. This is by far the most devastating single blow that a government has directed at the education system.”

As teachers retire, the government says the positions will not be replaced.

Here is how the province expects staffing to change over the next four years:

- 1,558 fewer teaching positions between 2019 and 2020

- 619 fewer teaching positions between 2020 and 2021

- 738 fewer teaching positions between 2021 and 22

- 560 fewer teaching positions between 2022 and 2023

By the 2022-2023 school year, approximately 3,475 positions will be lost.

“I think that those numbers are, I would say, conservative,” NDP education critic Marit Stiles said. “From what we’re hearing from boards, boards have not moved away from their estimates of what the impacts of these cuts are going to mean.”

The changes to teacher staffing is just one part of an education system overhaul the Ford government is embarking on. Among the changes, the province is introducing mandatory online courses, implementing a cellphone ban in classes and increasing class sizes at both the elementary and high school levels.

High school classrooms are expected to grow from 22 students per teacher to 28 students, while Grades 4 and 8 would see the addition of one student, bringing the average class size to 24.5.

Opponents of the PC party’s plan believe electives like shop class, drama and art will be cut.

School boards in Peel Region and Toronto recently wrote to Education Minister Lisa Thompson, claiming that classes essential to how students decide their future will disappear if class sizes change.

“The fact that the minister doesn’t seem to consider art or those sorts of classes as being important focuses for our schools indicates they don’t understand what a major part of economy the creative industries are,” Stiles said.

The OSSTF said the effects of the plan will be felt among those who are looking to become teachers, as well.

“They’re talking about loss by attrition of thousands and thousands of teaching positions,” Bischof said.

“What that means is they’re virtually won’t be a new hire into secondary schools in Ontario for years out. We’re talking five, six years out. There isn’t going to be any new blood coming into the system.”

The education minister was not made available for an interview today.

The province’s plan for teachers came just hours after students across the province walked out of their classrooms in protest of the government’s changes to education. Thousands of students flocked to front lawns and fields carrying signs and chanting slogans.

“It clearly shows you that people are angry at Doug Ford and they don’t want these cuts,” said one student.