By Deani Van Pelt
and Derek J. Allison
The Fraser Institute
Often opponents of independent schooling – education which exists outside of public government-run schools – invoke caricatures of private schools catering to the ultra-rich. The reality, however, is that independent schools in Ontario provide parents and students with a tremendous variety of school cultures and pedagogies that is difficult for the public sector to match.
A recent Fraser Institute study based on provincial ministry data of every independent school in Canada found that, rather than conforming to the dominant stereotype of the traditional private school, independent schools come in a wide variety of types and serve a remarkable range of educational preferences.
In 2013-14, Ontario was home to 954 independent schools serving 117,000 K-12 students, which represents 5.5 percent of all school enrolment in the province.
The study found that Ontario independent schools are not exclusively urban, with 24.2 percent located in rural settings and 10.2 percent located in small and medium-sized population centres.
More remarkably, the study found that despite the prevailing myth of elitism, less than four percent of independent schools in Ontario could be considered to conform to the “elite” stereotype of private schools. The other 96 percent comprise a wide variety of school types including many with specialty emphases.
For example, almost half of all independent schools in Ontario (47.9 percent) have a religious orientation. Of the 457 religiously-oriented independent schools in the province, almost three quarters (71.1 percent) are Christian (non-Catholic) schools. Another 15.1 percent are Islamic and 9.6 percent are Jewish.
Surprisingly, 15 of the religiously-oriented independent schools are Catholic despite Ontario’s fully-funded, government-run, public Catholic schools.
Among all independent schools in Ontario, 33.1 percent are “specialty schools,” which offer a wide variety of programs or approaches to teaching largely unavailable in government-run schools. For example, they focus entire programs on certain subject areas such as the arts, athletics, language or STEM (science/technology/engineering/math). Others, such as Montessori or Waldorf schools, offer distinct approaches to teaching and learning, or exclusively serve students with special needs.
Clearly the composition of independent schools in Ontario is diverse and serves a great variety of religious and pedagogical approaches not available in the government system. One of every 18 students in the province attend independent schools where parents find the education they prefer for their children, even though the provincial government in Ontario provides no funding or support for these schools. It’s time Ontarians get to know the reality of the “other 96 percent” of independent schools that don’t conform to the “elitist” stereotype.
Deani Van Pelt and Derek J. Allison are co-authors of the recently released study A Diverse Landscape: Independent Schools in Canada.