Given the current state of online learning in most public schools, I have received a good deal of inquiries about private schools. Don’t get me wrong, I am a firm believer in the need for a robust public system. It just so happens that the pandemic has once again raised a number of questions about the current state of public education in Canada. But that it is a discussion for another day. Today I want to assist people who are pondering enrolling their children in a private school for the long haul or just the short term. Though the biggest distinction between public and private is government funding and regulation, all non-governmental ‘private’ schools in Canada are still regulated by provincial governments to varying degrees. So, whether you are thinking of moving a child out of the public system or as the first school they will attend, here are some helpful tips and things to consider.
For-Profit vs Not-for-Profit
As already noted, the biggest difference between public and private education in Canada is funding. As such, there are two funding models for private schools in Canada that do not receive public money to operate. For-profit schools run as a business to make a profit as the name suggests. There is an owner or an ownership group and these schools are funded through tuition fees alone.
Not-for-profit or Independent Schools are administered by a board of governors or directors and put any profit back into the operation of the school. As these schools do not make a profit, they are able to secure donations to the school which enables them to supplement any operational shortfalls and for capital investments such as infrastructure and enhanced educational programs. Donors to a varying degree also secure tax benefits for their support.
In my opinion, the flaw in the funding model with for-profit schools is that they tend to operate on leaner financial terms and therefore tend to pay their teachers less and offer facilities that are not as robust as not-for-profit schools. This does not mean that the teachers are not as strong, but it does mean that there is greater turnover as the stronger teachers seek more favourable compensation in either the public or independent school system.
Though not funded by provincial governments (though in some provinces not-for-profit schools can access some public funds), all schools are regulated to varying degrees by provincial ministries of education. This tends to be more rigid with respect to degree-granting high schools, but again, it is dependent on where in Canada you live. As such, all private schools offer a curriculum that at the very least meets provincial expectations. Having said that, they also have the ability to go above and beyond provincial expectations and offer enhanced programs in the arts, athletics, and academics. As this is so individualized, make sure you understand what a prospective school offers beyond the local public school.
While a key selling point for private schools is usually smaller classes, what does that really mean? First off, some schools can have a K-12 student body of well over 1,000 and still offer small classes. Also, just as large classes offer a less positive learning environment, so too do really small classes. Although it sounds great to have only 10 or so kids in a class in terms of access to the teachers, the small size isn’t always a great natch developmentally or socially. Also, schools that offer really low student-to-teacher ratios, may find themselves combining grades from one year to the next based on shifting enrollment. Class size matters, but so too does the community feel.
Location, Location, Location
Of course, this varies depending on whether you live in an urban centre or a rural community, but most public schools are within walking or board of education provided bussing routes. Private schools are located throughout the country and may not be as easily accessible for students… especially in the younger grades. So do keep location and access in mind when considering schools. Though many schools offer bussing, this is an additional expense and can be prohibitive in some cases. As well, even if a school does offer to buss you may have to still drive to access a particular route.
Again, private schools are located everywhere from a church, synagogue, mosque, or temple basement to 100 plus acres in the countryside. Some offer facilities that do not compare favourably with the local public schools while other offer pools, hockey rinks, fitness facilities, and world-class laboratories. Another consideration is the IT infrastructure. Many public schools lack robust internet connections and struggle to keep up with the high tech needs of students. While most private schools are well-equipped in this regard, there is real disparity and this is another area that should be carefully monitored. Not all IT programs are the same, so buyer beware.
Dollars and Sense
Of course, the biggest difference between private and public education is tuition. But tuition is not the only cost to consider when pondering a private school education for your child or children. As noted before, bussing is something that may need to be taken into account and is above and beyond tuition. Tuition varies from school to school, as does what is included. No school offers tuition that is all-inclusive. There are always additional costs. Now, this could be as simple as everything but the school uniform, but in most cases, you will have to pay extra for textbooks, co-curriculars, food, and field trips to name a few. So, be sure to understand what the real cost is per year.
It’s All About the Fit.
At the end of the day, when choosing a private school for your child, you are looking for an environment where they will fit in and flourish. But you are also looking for a community where you will fit in and where your involvement is both encouraged and nurtured. So ask about the selection process. Ask about co-curricular opportunities, ask about the family council and board opportunities. Also, keep in mind that although many families send multiple children to the same private school, others seek out a school that fits each child. There’s no one right answer.
This set of tips is by no means exhaustive. I have not touched on things such as Financial Aid, community service, discipline, and so many more. I also haven’t spoken about the need for a tour, attendance at an Open House, and when life is back to normal, a day visit. Most importantly, ask questions and speak to current families about their experience. And of course, contact us if we can help you to navigate the process.