Though often confused, independent schools and private schools are two distinct alternatives to public education. Both address the needs of students who desire something different than what public education offers.
Private schools are generally understood to be for-profit organizations established and controlled by one or more persons.
Independent, meanwhile, most often signifies a not-for-profit school that is accountable to a board of trustees, which operates at arm’s length from the administration. As well, schools referred to as independent often point to their accreditation by a peer review body.
Five provinces in Canada where independent schools receive public funding require that they be recognized as accredited by a government body. But in Ontario, for example, independent schools share no across-the-board accreditation. Most independent schools are affiliated with associations that demand specific standards of their members.
According to recent statistics, around 119,000 students in Ontario alone attend independent schools and about 349,000 students across Canada. Some of these schools have even been around since the early 1800’s.
Read more article: Private vs. independent schools: what's the difference?
What’s the difference between private and public schools in North America? Here's a rundown of some of the main ones.
Tuition and taxes
Everyone pays taxes, so you are already supporting the public school system. Why pay for both, you might ask yourself? The fact is that in numerous provinces and states, you can get tax breaks when you send your child to private school over a public school. This tax break can come in many different forms depending on what state or province you are in.
Depending on what kind of private school you decide on, tuition can range from $4,000 per year up to more than $100,000. Public school costs nothing, of course. Is it more important to you to spend the money on private school tuition versus having money to treat your kids well in other respects? How much are you willing to sacrifice?
Private schools are allowed to expel students and can choose not to allow certain students admission. In fact, many private schools are difficult to get into. Public schools allow all students, regardless of religious creed, academic abilities, or any other factor. Sending your child to a private school means enrollment is selective and demands are uniformly higher versus a public school where they will be exposed to a wider variety of people and abilities.
In most areas, your children will attend public school with other kids from the same area. However, a number of provinces are moving toward a policy where you can request a change if you desire.
When parents choose a private school, they often do so based on their desire to give their children a specific peer group, whether that is based on discipline, cultural or religious background, or philosophical beliefs. This is perhaps understandable, in that establishing the right peer groups early on can have profound effects later in life.
Overcrowding of public school classrooms is one of the most common complaints about the public education system, a significant problem that inspires parents to seek private school alternatives.
Because they do not use public funds (or in some areas, less funds), private schools are not as restricted in their program development or curricula. Private schools are not subject to budget limitations imposed by the state (although they may in fact have more restrictive limitations).
This freedom allows private schools to develop their own curricula. As long as parents agree with the intellectual, philosophical, or religious basis brought to the curricula, this independence from 'government interference' can be a major perk. On the other hand, public schools use curricula designed to include all students, thus invoking in them a tolerance for others.
Teacher certification in private school vs. public
All teachers in public schools in almost all states and provinces in North America are required to have some form of federal, state, or provincial certification, along with a bachelor's degree. In the more prestigious private and boarding schools, there are likely to be teachers who are much more highly qualified, with graduate degrees and higher-level awards.
Actual teacher certification on a state-by-state or province-by-province basis varies and is always being revised. So blanket statements are not helpful or appropriate.
Read more link: Public vs. private schools
More families than ever are turning to private school. Why?
The reasons, as you might expect, are as varied as the families themselves. While we can’t cover them all, some of the top ones are academics, teaching environment, community and culture, personal growth, and parent involvement.
Private schools tend to have strong academics. Families love the focused and stimulating academic setting of private schools. They also value their challenging curricula and high academic stan- dards, as well as enrichment opportunities they provide, such as Advanced Placement (AP) courses, the International Baccalaureate (IB) Programme, and gifted programs.
Beyond high-level academics, parents look for the right educa- tional environment. Many private schools offer small class sizes and low student-to-teacher ratios. This often means a more intimate environment with increased student interaction, engagement, and participation. It can also enable teachers to be more cognizant of and responsive to the abilities and needs of individual learners.
Community and culture A school’s culture can be responsible for some of its most impor- tant and lasting benefits. While most public schools enrol students based on close proximity, private schools enrol students who share interests, aspirations, and values. Each private school has its own unique community and culture, one which prioritizes certain kinds of values, such as academic excellence, personal growth, commu- nity, diversity, and social justice.
Private schools focus on more than just academics. Most also make personal growth a high priority. Many parents choose a private school because they believe it provides the right place for social and emotional development. Often, private schools make character education a core part of the curriculum. Parents love that, in addition to core academics, their children will learn key values and character traits, such as honesty, independence, responsibility, and justice.
Private schools are built around open communication between parents and administration, and they make it a priority to involve parents in the community. From frequent parent-teacher meetings, social events like parent breakfasts and family camping weekends, and the participation of parent committees in fundraising initiatives, families become an integral part of their children’s school life.
Education in public schools remains the dominant form of education in Canada, though given the findings of a recent study, that's changing. “The data indicates," writes Deani van Pelt, "parents are increasingly looking to independent schools for more choice in how their children are educated.”
Van Pelt is director of the Fraser Institute's Barbara Mitchell Centre for Improvement in Education. She is also co-author of A Diverse Landscape: Independent Schools in Canada, published by the institute in June of 2016. The study is the first of its kind in Canada, and provides what is by far the most comprehensive portrait of independent schooling in this country to date.
And there are some surprises. What first catches a reader’s attention is the number of students that attend independent school, totaling 6.8 percent of the national K to 12 student population. That number has grown consistently over the past decades, nearly tripling since the 1970s. “A greater number of parents,” writes Van Pelt, “[are] choosing to have their children educated outside of the public school system.”
There’s another surprise too: they aren't necessarily who we think they are. “Rigid typecasting of independent schools is more myth than reality,” the authors report. “In Canada, the lingering stereotypes are not reflective of the landscape,” namely that private schools are all the same and, together, serve a very narrow portion of the student population:
“... the parents of over 368,000 students—one of every fifteen students in Canada—are sending their children to one of the 1,935 independent, non-government schools in the country, and the picture is clear. They are choosing schools that differ in many ways from one another, the vast majority of which do not conform to the prevailing caricature that private schools in Canada are exclusive enclaves serving only the wealthy urban elite.”
Still, the stereotypes persist, something that Van Pelt and others believe isn’t merely unfortunate, but potentially detrimental. “The widespread misperceptions of independent schools,” she writes, “impede honest debate about why thousands of families make the additional financial sacrifice to send their children to these schools.” Especially in light of her recent findings, Van Pelt says it’s time for Canadians to “understand and recognize the tremendous value and choice provided by independent schools to the education system.”
Read more: The changing face of private education
The first private schools in Canada reflected the gender roles of the time. They were meant to educate boys for political and military life. As times changed, so did the goals of schools.
Many new schools, especially those founded in the mid- to late-20th century, have been coed since their inception. Likewise, many older schools that started as boys’ schools began admitting girls. For example, St. John’s–Ravenscourt School began admitting girls in 1971, Ashbury College in 1982, and Appleby College in 1991.
Schools that have both boys and girls are the norm in public schools. Most private schools are coed as well. Having both boys and girls creates a unique academic and social environment. It also reflects the world students encounter as adults.
Available in much of Canada and at all ages, all-girls schools are still popular with parents who want their daughters to develop a strong sense of self and grow into mature women.
While society has changed, for many girls, a single-gender school can still be very beneficial. Studies by the National Association for Choice in Education (NACE), and other studies, have shown that girls in single-sex environments are more likely to pursue interests in science and technology and take part in a wider range of extracurricular activities.
Especially in the lower grades, boys’ schools have lots of physical pursuits. Boys are given more chances to be active than in a coed school. They also tend to do lots of learning by doing—touching and engaging rather than sitting and listening.
Boys’ schools aim to impart a passion for learning and the pursuit of academic excellence. The curriculum is often tailored to meet boys' academic and physical needs. There is also a focus on meeting developmental milestones.
If you have an older child in private school, it's important to decide whether boarding or day school is right for them. There are benefits to both, and many schools offer both boarding and day options.
Boarding schools allow students and faculty to live on campus, and boarders typically live on site for the whole academic year. Boarding offers an immersive academic and social experience. In class and out, students are challenged to develop independence, leadership skills, and positive relationships.
Boarding school isn’t just an environment where students live. Rather, it offers rich experiences that aren’t available in other settings.
Students tend to come from out of town, but many local students also choose to live in residence. Some students stay in residence for the week and go home for the weekend.
More varied than boarding schools, private day schools come in all shapes and sizes. Some reflect the “campus feel” of boarding school (either physically or in terms of the available programming and on-site resources). Others have a more casual feel.
A crucial factor in picking a school is its curriculum. “Curriculum” refers to both what is taught and how it’s taught.
When considering the different curricula outlined below, keep in mind that few schools fall neatly into one category. Most schools’ curricula comprise a blend of best practices drawn from multiple curriculum types.
Having said that, most schools do have an overall curriculum type. Each school identifies this within their full profile on OurKids.net. Often, schools also note any curricular adaptations they make at different grade levels.
Traditional curricula are content-based and rooted in the core disciplines. This is a structured approach where the teacher delivers a unified curriculum through direct instruction. Students usually learn by observing and listening to their teacher, studying facts and concepts in textbooks, and completing both tests and written assignments. There is a strong focus on the objective evaluation of student work.
Progressive (sometimes called “inquiry-based”) curricula attempt to place children’s interests and ideas at the heart of the learning experience. Instead of lessons being driven by predetermined pathways, progressive curricula are often “emergent.” Learning activities, on this approach, are shaped by students’ questions about the world.
Liberal arts curricula share with traditional programs their focus on core knowledge-acquisition, but tend to borrow more best practices from the progressive approach. A liberal arts program might still feature group work and projects, for example, contrary to the more primary focus on tests and essays at a traditional program.
Where the progressive approach tends to prioritize instrumental knowledge—knowledge that can be “used”—the liberal arts approach places more emphasis on theoretical and academic learning. At the heart of the liberal arts approach is the premise that humans are rational beings and that cultivating the intellect is not only an important goal, but is the goal.
Read more: Factors in finding the right fit: curriculum
Curriculum pace refers to the speed at which students learn material, move between concepts, and acquire skills. This varies between schools and instructional approaches, and is an important factor to consider when choosing a school.
Curriculum pace is measured relative to what’s specified by the provincial board of education. Provincial curricula indicate which concepts are introduced at which grades. A standard curriculum pace, on this metric, is the same as that described by the relevant provincial guidelines.
A student-paced curriculum is one that relies on cues from individual students, moving through course material based on their ability to master it. This is often used in gifted and special needs programs, and alternative programs, such as Montessori and Waldorf. Student-paced curricula are appropriate for students with highly individualized needs.
An accelerated pace is achieved through more advanced textbook and topic selection, grading, and academic standards and expectations. Accelerated curricula are appropriate for those who can handle the challenges, both intellectual and social/emotional, of managing a course load normally meant for older, more experienced students.
Through its teachers, administrators, students, and parents, each school has its own unique academic culture. This relates to the norms and expectations for academic performance.
A school with a rigorous academic culture is one that highly values academic performance. These schools prioritize seeking the best students and challenging them to achieve. High expectations and standards—and a challenging yet rewarding curriculum—are the common goals here. Yet, these schools can also be caring and supportive.
Supportive schools provide a less intensive approach than rigorous schools, and focus more on inspiring a love of learning and lifelong curiosity. Strong academic performance isn’t the driving focus of these schools, though it is a welcomed outcome. Supportive schools don’t lack standards or have low expectations for their students: while inspiring a love of learning, many also light the fire of ambition in their students.
Read more: Academic culture
Special needs support
When it comes to educating students with special needs, individualization is a great strategy. These students often learn best when they’re given one-on-one support. Providing individualized attention alone, though, isn’t enough. Look for schools with dedicated programs that target your child’s specific need(s), and teachers who are trained in special education.
Full-time special needs schools
These schools focus 100% on supporting students with moderate to severe special needs. Some schools cater to those with learning disabilities but not developmental disabilities, and vice versa. Other schools focus more on behavioural problems (such as “troubled teens schools”) or physical challenges.
Adaptations for the regular classroom
Some private schools offer specialized support for students with special needs in a regular class. This can be delivered in a few different ways:
Don’t assume because a school is private, or academically strong, that it can support the needs of gifted learners. And that’s what gifted children need: specialized support. They need well-designed programs, administered by teachers trained in gifted education, to address their unique learning needs.
Dedicated gifted schools and classes
Some schools offer segregated support to gifted learners either in a self-contained classroom or school, allowing their intellectual needs to be supported without compromise. Students benefit from the increased intellectual stimulation and pace of the entire class. They also get to interact with other students with similar interests and abilities. On the other hand, critics argue that segregated environments can sometimes lead to a “hothouse effect,” where students have less opportunity to socialize and grow with a wider range of students.
Adaptations for the regular classroom
Gifted students don’t always have to be segregated to have their needs met. There’s a flexible range of options schools provide gifted learners. Twenty-four percent of schools featured on OurKids.net offer students one or more of these formal adaptations within a regular classroom. With well-trained teachers who can tailor the curriculum, this is a great option for many gifted students.
Is there a an ideal school and class size? This is a controversial question.
While some researchers have looked at this, they often generalize students’ preferences and behaviours. Even some assumptions that seem valid—such as that smaller classes are better than larger ones for some students—lack empirical support. Children vary greatly in how they respond to different environments, and those responses can change over time. Similar to deciding between single-sex or coed schools, it’s best to consider the merits of both small and large schools, and small and large classes, as they relate to your child at specific times.
|SMALL SCHOOL ADVANTAGES|
Greater possibility for intimacy
|LARGE SCHOOL ADVANTAGES|
Greater diversity of opportunities
|When faculty members know each student, students are better supported and held more accountable—academically and behaviourally. Smaller faculty means increased likelihood for cross-teacher collaboration to provide support.||More well-rounded curriculum with greater variety allows students to choose more specialized classes, taught by specialist teachers. Greater number and variety of staff equipped to deal with your child’s unique psychoeducational needs. Larger faculty also means increased cross-pollination of best practices between teachers.|
|Instantly inducts students into a close-knit, whole-school community. Allows them to form close bonds with peers. This can be especially important for shy and introverted children.||Offers more social opportunities and increases the likelihood of students finding like-minded peers who challenge and support them. Students (including shy ones) learn to take control of their social lives and carve their own path. Avoids the “fishbowl” effect and gives kids a healthy escape valve during their social development.|
|If your child loves sports, but isn’t a star athlete, there’s an increased chance of them making school teams and playing a prominent role. There’s also more opportunities to take leadership positions in core extracurriculars, like student government.||Wider range of extracurriculars. Allows students to experiment with different programs and discover new passions, which may change over time. Sports teams tend to be more competitive, with better coaching and resources.|
|Parents feel more connected to the school when they know faculty, administration, and other parents so well.||Even the larger private schools tend to be highly responsive to parents, with faculty advisors assigned to individual students and parents.|
Read more: Small class sizes
1. Don’t look for the best school
Not all schools are created equal. Some are big, while others are small. Some are world famous, while others have a more local appeal. What’s more, no school can be all things to all people. Each has specific objectives, goals, and values, and aims to meet the needs of specific kinds of learners. In fact, this one of the virtues of private schools—they cater to specific types of children (and families), and often excel at doing this.
“Parents need to realize there is no longer any such thing as a typical private school,” says Judy Winberg, an education consultant. “All schools vary in their approach to teaching and learning, as well as in how they present curricula, extracurricular programs, and even the type of student they serve.” There’s no such thing as the ‘best school,’ one that works for all students and families. Different schools serve different types of families and children, and you’ll need to find one that works best for you—one that meets your most important needs (though likely not all your needs).
2. Look for the right fit
When Anne Rushforth’s son, Kenneth Gordon, was in grade 5, she overheard his teacher introducing him to another parent as “one of her slow students.” Rushforth bristled, knowing “he just needed a school to teach him in the way he learned.” She said, “I decided there needs to be a school for these children, where they’re understood.” In 1973, she founded the The Kenneth Gordon Maplewood School, and designed it to meet both her son’s needs and those of others with similar learning profiles.
Finding the right school means finding the right fit for you, your family, and your child. Start with your child. How does she learn, and what are her learning strengths and weaknesses? Is she an auditory or visual learner? What is she like socially and emotionally? Is she energetic, outgoing, introverted, shy, anxious, rule-oriented, rebellious, creative, quirky? What other traits might she have? The more you know about your child, the better equipped you’ll be to know what schools might meet her most pressing needs—academic, social, and emotional. This is one of the first steps, and a crucial one, in finding a school that’s the right fit.
3. Visit schools
You want a school that’s the right academic fit for your child, one that meets her learning needs, goals, interests, and objectives. There’s more to schools than academics, though. They should also have a culture in which your child can thrive. Make sure to find out as much as you can about a school’s culture—its community, social life, and values.
While you can certainly ask schools about this, the best way to get the real goods is to check things out for yourself. Plan to visit each school you’re considering. Don’t just go to open houses, though: go to school events, tour the campus, and have your child attend a class or two. Ask school officials plenty of questions, but also speak to students and other parents in the school community, especially those who aren’t officially representing the school.
Observing the school up close is another great way to gain valuable insight into its culture. How do students and faculty interact in the hallways and dining hall? What do students do during recess and how do they relate to each other? What does the food taste like? This is often the best way to get a feel for a school.
4. Look beyond private school rankings
The Fraser Institute’s annual private school rankings are based on seven factors, derived from the EQAO. This test is administered by provinces to assess teaching against provincial curricular standards, and to compare schools in terms of their academics and teaching effectiveness.
These types of rankings, though, only tell us so much. While they reveal a school’s basic academic standings, they leave out its academic approach, including its curriculum and pedagogies, and how they teach learning skills (such as organization, time-management, and initiation) and ‘soft skills’ (such as critical thinking, problem-solving, resilience, and communication). They also don’t tell us anything about a school’s culture, community, support systems, resources, facilities, extracurriculars, and more.
5. Know that you’re the expert
“I recommend that parents start by making a list,” says Winberg. “Ask yourself, ‘What’s most important to us?’ and write those things down.”
Then, look to the child. “Think about what’s working in your child’s current school and what’s not working,” education consultant Elaine Danson says. “Is there anything the child wishes he could do in school, but hasn’t been able to?” The right environment, Danson suggests, is one that supports those desires, one that addresses a child’s weaknesses and builds on her strengths. When it comes to your child, there’s no one that can know those things better than you.
Consider your family needs as well. “Look at what’s important to your family, and you’ve got to dig quite deep for that.” says Elizabeth Moore, executive director of the Independent Schools Association of British Columbia. “If it doesn’t work out, it can be rectified. But after everything is weighed and balanced, as a parent you know inside yourself what is going to work.”
Read more, Five steps to finding the perfect match
The Private School Expos are far and away the highlight of our year, a welcome opportunity to step away from the office and engage with the people—educators, parents, students— who make private schooling so compelling. We think we live in a connected world, and perhaps we do. Still, the expos are a reminder of the importance of bringing people together, face-to-face, around some shared ideas.
Explore your options
As fun as the expos are, there is of course a serious side. Education is important, second only to family within the life of a child. The right school, just as the wrong one, can make a lasting impact. We often think of private school as an option for students who need to be challenged, and certainly there are many who are driven by a desire for enrichment or university preparation.
That said, each year there are also parents who attend because their child, for whatever reason, isn’t thriving in their current school environment. They want to help, just as all parents do, though it’s not always clear how. Added to that, it can be overwhelming when there are hundreds of options to choose from. Through the expos, we’re proud to play a role in easing any anxieties, and in making some introductions between people who really need to meet each other.
Know the issues
Each expo includes information sessions and panel discussions on topics relevant to private education. At the sessions, experts offer advice and field questions about choosing a school, admissions, and financing.
Even if you’re 99% sure where you will enrol your child, an expo is an opportunity to confirm the choice you’ve made. Whether you’re looking to send your teen on a learning experience of a lifetime, to help your child with her ABCs, or anything in between, you’re not just finding a school, you’re building a relationship. Each school has a unique culture, just as each student has a unique personality, and it’s the intersection between them that will dictate the best school for a child. At the end of the day, nothing can replace the value of stepping up, putting out your hand, and saying “hello.”
Read more: Private school expos
1. Carefully consider your needs
While finding the right house is all about location, location, location, when it comes to private schools, the motto is fit, fit, fit. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. What makes a school perfect for your neighbour’s child doesn’t necessarily make it the right choice for yours. Your family’s circumstances, the individual strengths and needs of your child, your education philosophy and vision will all contribute to your choice of schools.
So before you start flipping through attractive brochures or browsing websites, take the time to consider, as a family, what it is you are looking for in a school and why.
2. Do your initial homework
This can’t be said enough: Do your homework. Having a good base of information and knowledge about the private school landscape will help you make a choice that is right for you and your child. Remember to involve your child in the school search process as much as you can.
3. Visit a shortlist of schools
Most schools readily welcome visiting parents, so pick up the telephone and arrange a tour. A first-hand look is essential to get a personal sense of whether it’s a place you can see sending your child. But don’t rely on your first impression—plan more than one visit. Return with your child if you like what you see. Remember to ask a lot of questions; admissions officers anticipate and welcome them. And it’s a good idea to bring a written checklist along with you.
Ask schools about:
Read more: Five steps to finding the perfect match
Are you considering private school for your child? If so, you’ll want to take a close look at your options.
It’s important to visit many different schools and talk with school officials, such as directors, teachers, and other staff. You’ll want to ask them plenty of questions, to help you find the right school for your child and family (or to select from among the schools you may have been accepted to).
Below, are the top 12 questions to ask private schools:
Read more: Questions to ask schools
1. The Arts
In the 21st century classroom, schools are redefining what it means to be “smart” through unconventional means: the arts. Research shows that studying the arts may not only help students get good grades, but is linked to social and emotional development, problem solving, cognitive ability, critical thinking, creativity, empathy, innovation, collaboration, leadership and a wide range of higher-order thinking skills.
2. Science & Technology
As technology evolves at a head-spinning pace, many private schools forge ahead as digital innovators.
For today’s digitally savvy youth, nature is often far from their minds. Spending more time with video games, smartphones, computers, and TV has contributed to the widespread onset of nature-deficit disorder, a term coined by author and environmental activist Richard Louv, which links behavioural problems in young people to lack of outdoor exposure.
Private schools across Canada have made it an integral part of their mission to teach environmental education. Many now realize that in order to get students to care about environmental protection and sustainability, they must first help them build a hands-on relationship with nature. From going on dog-sledding adventures and taking overnight camping trips to growing community gardens and learning about science while exploring ponds, private schools are exposing kids to outdoor activities they’re not used to in their daily screen-saturated lives.
4. Global Environment
A new generation of global citizens is being educated in private schools across the country. Whether travelling abroad to help a community in need, learning a new language, or developing diversity awareness initiatives in their own classrooms, private school students have more opportunities than ever to broaden their knowledge and understanding of international perspectives to help them integrate into a multicultural world.
Exposure to this type of global education begins as early as kindergarten in many private or independent schools. As the world becomes smaller and more interconnected, students require a better sense of cultural literacy in order to work and live within a global context.
A school's responsibility is to raise healthy students, not just educate them. That's what psychologist and mental health advocate Dr. Adam Cox believes is essential to fostering healthy schools.
Health and wellness has become more of a priority for schools today given the significant increase in stress, anxiety, and depression among North American youth, coupled with numerous high-profile cases of suicides and bullying. While many factors such as genetics and biology contribute to mental health issues, social influences, including an increased pressure to succeed and fit in, are weighing on many young people.
Read more: Five trends in education
Math provokes more feelings of anxiety and frustration than any other core subject for countless elementary and middle school students. However, in recent years, it appears that more and more parents are experiencing and even greater level of stress as they attempt to help their children with math homework. Has math advanced so much in elementary education that we, as parents, can no longer help our kids?
While that may be the question on the minds of a lot of moms and dads, the answer has little to do with the type of math and more to do with the way it's being taught. In recent years, a "discovery" approach to learning math has become the trend in Canadian schools. In general, this approach involves problem-solving situations that are designed to encourage a student to discover the answers without direct instruction from the teacher.
The goal of discovery-based math is to make it more meaningful for children. If a child can make the correct conclusions on her own through logical thinking and deduction, the concepts will be easier to remember.
Many classroom teachers would agree that self-discovery has value but also recognize that a more traditional approach to teaching math shouldn't be overlooked. Math proficiency, by its very nature, requires old-fashioned memorization, repetition, and practice in order to master basic, foundational concepts. In fact, in places like Korea and Japan, where students are well known for their math skills, it is this traditional approach to math that is used within the classrooms.
Read more: The problem with discovery-based math
What is project-based learning?
Many schools make use of structured projects that are designed to enhance student learning. These projects can be individual or collaborative, short- or long-term, or student- or teacher-initiated.
Projects often start with an open-ended idea or problem posed by a student or teacher. As G.S. Morrison points out (“Reggio Emilia,” 2010), “the key feature of a project is that it is a search for answers to questions about a topic worth learning more about, something the children are interested in.”
Projects can open up new avenues of exploration. They require lots of creative thinking and problem solving. And, they can introduce material, questions, and opportunities that often provoke children to further explore issues and questions.
Which schools use project-based learning?
Many schools use project-based learning, in some form of another. Some schools make it a central part of their curriculum, such as Reggio Emilia schools and preschools. Others offer it as an option for specific students.
Many alternative and progressive schools offer project-based learning. In addition to Reggio schools, many Montessori and Waldorf schools have individual and group projects as a part of their curriculum.
Alternative schools depart from the mainstream. They offer a teaching approach, curriculum, and learning environment that differs from what you’ll find in most mainstream schools.
Read more: learning in schools
There’s a long-standing and contentious debate over homework. Should homework be assigned to school-age children? If so, in what grades? And how much homework should be assigned? There’s no shortage of disagreement about these questions.
On the one hand, traditionalists are pro-homework. They claim that homework helps students learn. They also claim schools should start assigning it in grade 1, and increase the amount in each grade.
Progressives, on the other hand, are anti-homework. They claim that homework is mostly ineffective, and that schools should assign little, if any, homework—especially in the earlier grades.
The jury is still out on homework. Despite lots of research, there’s little agreement on the merits of homework, and its merits versus its costs. But research seems to suggest, if nothing else, that homework can enhance learning in many ways.
Although there’s no such thing as the perfect or “one-size-fits-all” homework policy, good ones provide an explicit set of guidelines for assigning homework.
These guidelines should be well-supported by the relevant research. Below, are some starting points:
Read more: Homework wars
Further reading: Today’s homework
Sadly, comic books have often been looked at as a second-rate form of literature. Educators and parents alike have long preferred books that were heavy on text, and light on illustrations. Proclaiming "the classics" as a means by which all children should be educated was forever at the foundation of Language Arts instruction. A new generation of teachers are rediscovering the immense value of these texts.
1. Their Lexicon of Complex Words is Higher than Most Publications
In a personal and published study of over 1,000 comics and their inclusion of higher-order words, most comic books and graphic novels featured an astonishing 36%-76% of their text as representative of language found in senior secondary school and college/university placement tests. Most other periodicals and newspapers only garnered 14% of these higher lexicon words.
2. Improvement of Memory Skills
With the world becoming very media/visually literate, someone who is learning English or a reluctant reader/writer could use the comic book as a means of engaging a sense of prediction and revision at the same time, by following sequential design, yet being able to visually flip back and restore the immediate visual hit again and again. This informed memory access (I.M.A.) and renewal is central to learning English in its colloquial and contextual element.
3. Introduction to non-linear storytelling
Many comic book writers tend to construct story arcs, over long periods of time. This requires readers to serialize their approach and wait a few weeks for the next installment. And even though the text might be presented in a chronological and sequential text-to-image presentation, the story arc can jump from past to present, and to the future, all in the same narrative.
4. Multiple Gateways to Higher-Order Literacy
Comic books serve reluctant readers best as an initial gateway to reading. They are the hook by which children have come to appreciate literacy. In a January 2013 interview, Silver Snail owner, George Zotti spoke about the new literary turn which encompasses all of the building blocks of media literacy, which, at its core, remains the written word. When asked about the literacy of the comic book, Zotti noted, "They are the gateway to books, the ability to bequeath the gift of wanting to read and continuing to do so is a tremendous present; comics are just as good as any novel."
5. Lessons in Character Sketches and Character Development
Attempt the following experiment with any elementary or middle school student: have the student produce a character sketch. Most students will actually produce a drawing. Comic books provide multiple examples of how characters are structured, based on a backstory, motivations, reaction to setting and place, and movement through plots as minor and major characters, and the introduction of what it means to be an antagonist and protagonist, and why this has developed.
Read more: Ten reasons children should read comic books
The admissions process for private schools begins long before your child reaches school age, of course. If you are among the most diligent of parents, you may even begin the private school application process before you are pregnant. While that may sound a bit extreme to some, parents who begin the process too late may end up left out in the cold. In any case, here is an overview of how to apply for private school--and get into the school that is best for your child.
Before you even consider applying to a private school
There are a lot of considerations that go into this, but a handful of factors are critical. The first and foremost is always to focus on fit. Along with private schools, we caution very strongly against notions of finding "top private schools" or the schools with the highest number of graduates to universities, etc. While a factor like that can have importance, it is best to know, understand, and give top priority to the needs of your child. Focus on your child's personality, his or her learning strengths and weaknesses and your family's goals and values. Of course, there's no denying that budget will be a high priority for many people. Once you have decided on the importance of other factors such as location, gender (boys, girls or coed) and class or school size, you are ready to investigate schools.
Start your search early, pay attention to word-of-mouth (as a precursor to your own full investigation, of course), and begin by researching private schools online. (With events listings, step-by-step advice, detailed school listings and over 1000 articles dating back twenty years, our site is certainly one of the most highly regarded sources of information on private schools in Canada). Contact a shortlist of schools you are interested in, attend private school open houses and then begin applying to private schools.
Private school applications
With your first hand knowledge of schools, narrow down your choices to a short list--let's say, approximately five private schools. Do not pin all your hope on one or two schools. As you submit applications to private schools, bear in mind that earlier is always better: some schools have enrolment set early in the spring.
Some pointers for the application process:
Regardless of the context, the word "interview" can incite much fear and anxiety. For students hoping to win over the administrators of their dream private school, the interview seems like yet another hoop to jump through.
It helps to remember that while the interview is important, it's just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to admissions. Other pieces include report cards and test results-–standardized or admission. In the interview, administrators are simply seeking a clearer view, beyond the paper application, of whether or not a student is a good fit for the school and vice versa. So don’t panic!
Use the following tips to help your student have a stress-free private school interview.
Six tips on nailing the interview
1. To the extent possible, find out the interview format ahead of time.
Private schools' interview processes differ. Some interview the child only–-with or without the parents present, some interview both at once or consecutively. Some are very formal, some informal. For instance, elementary interviews tend to consist more of observation-—of how the child interacts with their parents or other students.
2. Do your research before applying to the school.
The more you and your child know and understand about the school beforehand, in terms of academics, extracurriculars, general environment, and other pertinent details, the less likely the chance of being caught off guard during the interview.
3. Provide as much information as possible prior to the interview.
For example, reference letters, short statements about the child's abilities, interests, goals and learning style (prepared by you or the child). This information will both supplement and help administrators better prepare for the interview.
4. Practice with your child.
Schools are looking for students with such desirable characteristics as a love of learning, willingness to contribute to the school community, and a generally pleasant demeanour. Practice will help your child clearly and comfortably express their strengths and interests.
5. Ensure that your child doesn't simply memorize and regurgitate talking points.
While having some key points in mind, it's important to speak from the heart. To foster this authenticity, be sure to involve your child in every step of the school search process and take their preferences into consideration.
6. Be prepared with questions of your own.
The interview process is a two-way street, a time for you and your child to figure out how well your child would do at the school (academically, socially, etc.). Take the time to come up with thoughtful, intelligent questions for administrators.
Once you've helped your child prepare, relax! A stress-free private school interview is just around the corner.
It's a four-letter word that's associated with an awful lot of nervousness among many private school applicants-–SSAT.
With knowledge however, comes power. So, let's demystify the SSAT for you, so you can be confident about what this means, and what it does not, as you embark on the application process.
What is the SSAT?
SSAT stands for Secondary School Admissions Test. This standardized test is a popular admission requirement for private schools. Schools rely on the SSAT to assess a student's overall abilities, rather than knowledge in specific subjects.
There are several important sections of the SSAT. The multiple choice aptitude test that evaluates:
Tests problem-solving involving math, elementary algebra, geometry, and concepts
Reading comprehension skills:
Tests ability to understand what is read
A writing section:
Students must write an essay responding to a topic statement. Essays aren't graded. However, a copy is sent to schools along with test scores.
There are two levels of testing for the SSAT:
Lower: for students currently in Grade 5-7
Upper: for students currently in Grade 8-10
Why do some schools require them and others don't?
SSATs are required by almost all private schools for entry into junior and senior grades-–Grade 5 and up. It's up to the individual school to determine whether it is required.
How does it work?
Students write the exam at a designated test location school. All tests are sent to SSAT headquarters in Princeton, New Jersey where they are marked. Results are sent to schools indicated by the students.
Read more: SSAT schools
Further reading: A comprehensive guide to the SSATS, Standardized tests and entrance exams: advice from experts
The independent or private school experience is an exciting time for new students: there will be new friends, challenging class work, sports and extracurricular activities.
But in order for your child to have these experiences, you must first find the right school for them, and apply.
When applying to independent schools, the skills of prospective students are evaluated, their life experiences and aptitudes considered. Tests are often taken, interviews with admissions and school administration are completed, and then parents, rightfully nervous and impatient, wait for an answer to arrive.
Applying doesn't need to be stressful, though—not if you take your time to find the right fit and consider your child's needs along the way.
"I have met with parents who make this their full-time job…and the anxiety that they create in their children as a result is not helpful," says Judy Winberg, education consultant with Toronto-based Options in Education.
In other words, listen to what your child wants. The older a child is the more involved in the process they should be, suggests Winberg. "I always say--especially in children up to Grade 6--don't give them the power to make the choice themselves because with that comes the responsibility, and if it doesn't work out then the child's going to think they've made a mistake."
When considering a private school education, cost can be a major factor. Private schools are becoming more affordable, to meet the needs of deserving students and enrich their communities with diversity. Yet some may be beyond your budget, which makes it all the more important to explore your options and determine what you can expect to get for your money.
These schools typically focus on the basics and reduce expenses on new resources and equipment. Extracurricular opportunities may not be as vast, but the quality of instruction inside the classroom tends to be high. Of course, tuition doesn’t always match school expenses: sometimes a school can keep its fees low because of income from a healthy endowment and/or fundraising initiatives.
These schools often have higher expenses. They may also spend more in providing financial aid for families that need it. This is done to increase the quality and diversity of students. High-tuition schools can be large or small, though often they’re large. Some older and more established schools have higher tuition. High-tuition schools often provide a wider breadth of academic and extracurricular opportunities, with more up-to-date resources.
Read more: School tuition and costs
Private schools aren’t just for the rich:
Sometimes thought to be exclusive to the wealthy, private school is actually a mainstream option for families across Canada. In fact, half of private school families have household incomes below $120,000, and a fifth have incomes below $50,000.
Private schools are more accessible than you might think:
Yes, some schools cost $30,000 per year, but those schools are only a fraction of the available options. It’s also possible to find great schools for less than $12,000. And many schools offer financial aid to families who can’t otherwise afford tuition.
Ask about sibling discounts, and other fee reductions:
In addition to financial aid, many schools offer discounts, for instance, for enrolling more than one child from your family. Sibling discounts are especially common at faith-based schools, but are offered at other types of schools as well. Discounts often start at 10% off the tuition for each sibling.
Ask about payment plans:
Most schools offer a payment plan, so don’t be afraid to ask. The worst they can say is no. Some schools even allow families to spread out payments over multiple years. If you’re upfront with schools, they’ll likely try to accommodate your financial needs.
You might be eligible for tax breaks:
Tax breaks vary by province and type of school. You may be eligible for a tax break if the school is registered as a charity providing religious education. If the school is providing your child special needs support, you may also be eligible for a medical tax break. Moreover, private school can be considered a child-care expense (and thus tax-deductible): specifically, private schools that offer programs for preschool-age children or after-school care for students up to age 15, including boarding schools. Work with the school and a financial advisor to determine what tax breaks might be available.
Prepare for some extra fees…
Make sure you have money set aside for extras. There may be things like transportation costs and uniform fees that you wouldn’t have to deal with at a public school.
…but remember you’ll be saving money, too:
Many private schools include services and benefits in the cost of tuition, such as extracurricular fees, meals, and tutoring. Ask yourself, “if my child were at this school, what costs would I no longer have to incur?” Often, these include music lessons, swimming instruction, team sports, and other activities provided by schools as part of tuition.
Read more: Paying for school: what’s included in tuition
Many schools have financial aid programs, and the vast majority of aid is allocated based on need, rather than academic performance.
Many comfortably middle class families are eligible for funding. “You don’t have to be wealthy to apply to school,” says Tim White of Trinity College School (TCS) in Port Hope, Ontario. “And if we can afford to help them be here, to help enrich our place, why not? We’re just looking for great kids.” Certainly that’s been demonstrated historically at TCS. The new Cirne Commons, like other programs and facilities at the school, were funded through an endowment by Lewis Cirne, an alumnus who himself benefited from the school’s financial aid program. “Thanks to the great generosity of people before me,” says Cirne, “I was able to receive financial aid and come to the school. That never has left my mind.”
You may be eligible:
Applications are typically evaluated by a third party, who then advises the school on who needs aid.
It’s more common than you might think:
At many schools, more than 20% of students are on financial aid. Tens of millions of dollars are distributed annually.
Schools are competing to attract students from varied backgrounds:
Schools don’t offer aid out of charity—nor as a business calculation. Schools do it to attract a diverse and talented student body. Financial aid students add to the richness of the school community.
Applying for financial aid won’t otherwise affect admissions:
Your chances of gaining admission into a school are the same whether you apply for financial aid or not: the aid and admissions applications are entirely separate. Admissions officers are strictly concerned with admitting the best talent.
Schools expect to be asked about it:
“Don’t be shy about asking about needs-based scholarships and applying,” says Elena Holeton, director of admissions at St. Clement’s School in Toronto, Ontario. “Know that the admissions departments are very happy to have these conversations and that these types of questions are nothing to be embarrassed about. A lot of people are stretching to be able to afford independent schools, and questions around financial aid are not uncommon.”
If you think education is expensive now, just wait a few years. Some forecasters say that in less than 20 years, a university education will cost $72,000 a year for tuition, residence fees, books, transportation, and a few odds and ends. That's six times what it costs today.
And that's just university. Private primary and secondary education can be expensive too. Tuition at private primary schools can now run $15,000 a year and top-notch boarding schools more than $30,000.
Despite these sums, private education and post-secondary education are not the sole privilege of the well-to-do. Many double-income, middle-class families are making concerted efforts to provide their children with what they feel is a superior education, affording the cost through a careful combination of sacrifice and planning.
"I've seen more middle-income families striving for a private education," says Allan Bush, branch manager for Financial Concept in Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario. "Before it wasn't talked about in financial planning. Now it's talked about."
Regardless of which financial vehicle you choose, the key is to start early, says Bush. For instance, if you start when your child is an infant and invest $100 a month, based on a 10 percent return it would be worth $40,162.12 when your child is 15. If you wait until your child is five years old, $100 a month would be worth only $20,145.72 when the child is 15.
"Start now, the sooner the better. Five years makes a huge difference," says Bush.
Bush says parents should look beyond the obvious methods to help pay for their child's education, savings accounts and loans, which either generate minimal revenue or add to the cost with interest payments.
The better options generally can be grouped into a handful of financial vehicles--scholarships and bursaries, mutual funds, trust funds, and Registered Education Savings Plans (RESPs).
Choosing a school for your child is a big decision. On OurKids.net, we provide all the information you need to make this decision. We also cover related topics such as private school expos and questions to ask private schools.
Below, education experts weigh in on some of the key factors involved in choosing the right school. What follows are valuable insights you can take with you in your school search.
On what to look for
“A school should be able to answer three key questions: Who are you? What do you do? What do you do well and differently? Vague, motherhood answers aren’t helpful here—‘we want to bring out the best in every child,’ ‘we’ll help your child reach her potential,’ and the like. A school should provide a clear and specific description of what they offer (and what they don’t). For example, ‘our school is geared to children with general but not specific learning disabilities.’
—Janyce Lastman, Education Consultant, The Tutor Group
“There’s evidence to support that teaching is a huge factor. So it’s important to look at the retention of staff in a particular school, and whether they hold on to their best teachers. Couple that with class size and that’s a winning combination. A varied curriculum that’s multi-disciplinary and able to meet the needs of different students is also critical. So if a child is very gifted in math, will the school be able to meet his needs? The best schools know their students and differentiate the curriculum accordingly.”
—Ann Wolff, Education Consultant, Wolff Educational Services
On learning about schools
“It’s important to visit schools before making the decision. And don’t just visit during open houses where everything is really canned and students are handpicked to give tours. Sit in the office, ask for a private tour, look in the classrooms. Peek in the window and see how many kids are engaged. See what’s happening in the actual environment.
—Ann Wolff, Education Consultant, Wolff Educational Services
“I recommend to families to go to a school several times for different reasons. First, you’ve got to go there once to check it out, either at an open house or on a private tour. Then, you should go back for one of their evenings. Say you’re interested in theatre and the school says ‘We’re putting on a play, why don’t you come back?’ Go.
—Elaine Danson, Education Consultant, Danson and Associates
On mistakes parents make
“Many parents have a long checklist and they expect to find a school that has everything on their list. I tell them that looking for a school is like looking for a spouse, job, or the perfect home—it’s a compromise or trade-off. No school will have everything that’s on your list. If you get 75% to 80% of what’s on your list, you’re doing great. What do you do about the other 20% or 25% that’s on your list? These things you can often find outside of school, through after-school programs, travel, volunteer opportunities, or elsewhere.”
—Janyce Lastman, Education Consultant, The Tutor Group
“Some parents don’t look at their children as learners and pick schools based on other priorities. They might look at the prestige, name, or reputation of the school, which are variables that don’t often contribute to success. Some parents also have preconceived ideas about what’s right for their child, which may or may not be correct.
—Ann Wolff, Education Consultant, Wolff Educational Services
On school red flags
“High staff turnover is a bad sign. You want strong leadership too, so if the principal, headmaster, or board of directors is changing every couple of years, this points to a lack of stability. If my child is in grade 2, I’d like to know there’s continuity from grade 2 to 3.”
—Ann Wolff, Education Consultant, Wolff Educational Services
“Bad schools aren’t transparent: they don’t communicate clearly or they do so with a spin. You should also avoid schools that give you a high-pressure sales pitch: schools that accept your child and try to get you to sign on the dotted line right away, and that want all the money up front. Of course, this is different than a school that sends out a letter that says ‘We need to know in 10 days, because we have a waiting list.’”
—Janyce Lastman, Education Consultant, The Tutor Group
Every school has a different application process. From entrance exams to academic assessments to interviews, you should note and stick to the key dates and requirements of any school you apply to.
Below, school officials and education consultants weigh on key parts of the application and evaluation process. What follows are valuable insights you can use throughout the journey.
On what schools look for
“Like many schools, we look for students with a strong academic background who will also contribute meaningfully to our community through sports, fine arts, or the leadership side of school life. It can be very obvious when it is a parent who is pushing their child, and those applicants are often not granted admission. The applicant needs to be excited about their future and the opportunities at a school like SMUS.”
—Alexis Lang Lunn, Assistant Director of Admissions, St. Michaels University School, Victoria, British Columbia
“We don’t want our student community to all be the same. Quite the opposite. We embrace students who have unique skills and interests and want to share those with the community. So there are a number of factors taken into consideration when admitting a student. This includes their academic ability/potential, desire and motivation to attend Appleby, and involvement in extracurricular activities (e.g., athletics, arts, service). ”
—Luke Seamone, Executive Director of Admissions, Appleby College, Oakville, Ontario
On the interview
“The interview is a way for the admissions office to get to know more about the applicant, to see if they are the right fit for the school. Prospective students will be asked questions about their interests, academics, family, and character. There will be opportunities to ask questions about the school during the interview as well. To prepare for the interview, students should reflect on their interests and why they want to move schools. They should also research the school and be knowledgeable about the programs and overall approach of the school, both in and out of the classroom..”
—Kathy LaBranche, Director of Admissions, Trinity College School, Port Hope, Ontario
“The interview is one of the only opportunities a family has to add that human, emotional, and personal touch to their application, so it’s crucial that you do your homework. Preparing for the interview is more than simply memorizing a set of interview questions and responses. Some quick tips on preparing for the interview:
—Brian Ide, Educational Director, KEY Admissions
On report cards and grades
“Report cards are very important, but to me, grades are less important than teacher comments and learning skills. Recent research that I conducted, supported by the Eureka! research grant provided to UTS by the Newton Foundation, and working with an OISE researcher, revealed some really interesting information that can be drawn from teacher report comments. Every school will have different criteria and things they look for. At UTS, students with good work habits, high resilience, and strong collaboration skills, tend to be very successful, so indicators in the report comments that point to those characteristics are important to us.”
—Garth Chalmers, Vice-principal, University of Toronto Schools, Toronto, Ontario
“We are more concerned about potential than test scores, transcripts, and past academic successes. We believe that if students have the ability, we have a great track record of getting them to fulfill it. There may be underlying reasons that students are getting low grades, and there may be emotional costs to students who are achieving As.”
—Clayton Johnston, Director of Admissions, Brentwood College, Mill Bay, British Columbia