For their children’s education, parents “are increasingly choosing options outsidethe public school system,” writes Angela MacLeod, an education policy analyst with the Fraser Institute. While public schools are still the most common form of education in Canada, enrolment in private schools continues to rise (for instance, by 17.9% in Ontario, from 2000 to 2015). “While education is funded and delivered differently across the provinces, the evidence is clear—parents ... are increasingly looking to independent schools for more choice in how their children are educated.”
Why is private school becoming an increasingly popular option for Canadian families? The reasons, as you might expect, are as varied as the families themselves. While we can’t cover them all, some top ones are academics, teaching environment, community and culture, personal growth, extracurricular activities, 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 standards, as well as enrichment opportunities they provide, such as Advanced Placement (AP) courses, the International Baccalaureate (IB) Programme, and gifted programs.
Some private schools also have impressive university placement stats. This is an appealing feature if a top priority is to get into a first-rate university or college.
What kinds of families choose private school?
There’s been a striking increase in private school enrolment over the last couple decades, increasing by 28% from 2000 to 2015 in Canada. There’s a higher percentage in some provinces (BC’s numbers are double the national average), though in all enrolment continues to rise.
What may surprise you, though, is the diversity of families that attend private school. Recent studies show that families of all sizes and ethnic backgrounds are turning to the private system.
Moreover, while many still believe private school families are typically wealthy, according to Statistics Canada, this just doesn’t seem to be the case. The latest data shows that many children from both high- and low-income families attend private school, half of whom are from families with total annual incomes of less than $120,000, and 21% of whom are from families making less than $50,000 a year.
Beyond high-level academics, parents look for the right educational 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.
A school’s culture can be responsible for some of its most important 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, community, diversity, and social justice. Most private schools also have a tight-knit community that can enable your child to find their home away from home.
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. This can provide the right setting for kids to grow into mature and responsible young people.
Private schools aim to provide a well-rounded education. This is often promoted, in part, through a wide range of extracurricular activities, such as sports, arts, music, and community service. Participation in extracurriculars is a key feature of growth. As Angela Duckworth, a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, points out in Grit, involvement in extracurriculars is an effective way to promote grit and perseverance, which she singles out as key factors in personal and professional success.
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. This common ground can help strengthen parent-child relationships.