IF YOUR CHILDREN or grandchildren attend an independent Christian school, they are part of a growing trend. Independent school enrolments are increasing while public school enrolments are declining.
And it is a trend that appears not to be escaping the Ontario government’s notice.
Consider enrolments: from 2005/06 to 2015/16 public school enrolments in Ontario (including public Catholic schools) declined by six percent (from 2,118,544 to 1,993,432). But over the same period, Ontario independent school enrolments increased by 12 percent (from 119,584 to 133,919).
Consider schools: over that same decade, the number of public schools remained stable (from 4,886 to 4891) while the number of independent schools increased by 25 percent (from 895 to 1,118 schools). The most recent (2018/19) Ministry of Education statistics show 1,285 independent schools in Ontario, a 44 percent increase in the number of independent schools in just 13 years!
What is going on here?
A CHANGING LANDSCAPE
Unlike Quebec and all four western provinces where governments offer partial funding for independent schools, independent schools in Ontario are almost entirely funded by parents and philanthropists. This means independent schools save Ontario taxpayers more than $1.8 billion dollars annually. It also means the growth in independent schools can’t be explained by a change in government financial support for independent schools.
So why are parents gradually turning to the independent school sector for the education of their children? And why is almost one in five schools in that province run by parents and other non-government associations?
Independent schools bring diversity to the education landscape. In Ontario, close to half are religiously-defined while the rest have distinct pedagogical visions. Three-quarters of the religiously-oriented independent schools are Christian schools (a handful are Catholic), while Islamic and Jewish schools make up the majority of the remaining religiously-defined schools. The non-religious independent schools include schools with a unique learning emphasis such as Montessori, Waldorf, special education, arts, sports or science/technology/engineering/math.
Research from a decade ago found the main reasons parents choose independent schools in Ontario included the religious perspective and a focus on morals and character, unique pedagogical or curricular emphasis, perceptions about quality of the education or the care of the teachers or the safety of the schools, or an emphasis on community or the individual student.
But is something else driving the growth in recent years? Until more research is done, we rely on other evidence and anecdote.
It’s worth noting that Ontario’s new provincial government seems to have picked up on the shift. Their province-wide consultations “For the Parents” which ended on December 15, 2018 included an intention to prepare a Ministry of Education Parents’ Bill of Rights.
The global context for such action is also clear. International treaties recognize parental rights in education; the most famous, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), reads “parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children” and protects their freedom to “manifest . . . religion or belief in teaching.”
Furthermore, a recent report (June 2018) of the European Parliament on the modernisation of education in the EU contains the clause: “whereas the right to education includes the freedom to set up educational establishments, on the basis of due respect for democratic principles and for the right of parents to ensure that their children are educated and taught according to their religious, philosophical and pedagogical convictions.”
Certainly, in addition, the law in Canada, either through legislation or jurisprudence, provides extensive protection for parental rights in directing and determining their children’s education.
Parents across Canada are clearly demonstrating their uptake of such rights.
If you’ve felt the nudge to establish a new independent school or to assist in the choice of one for your children or grandchildren, indeed, given the trends and the changes, now might be precisely the right time.