VANCOUVER, BC—BC parents are increasingly looking outside the public school system for educational options for their children as evidenced by widespread waitlists for independent schools in Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley, according to a new report from the Fraser Institute, Canada's leading public policy think-tank.
In a Fraser Institute survey of independent schools throughout the Lower Mainland, 57.3 per cent of schools reported a waitlist for enrolment in 2011/12. Of those schools, almost 80 per cent said that waitlists had been the norm for the past three years.
“The demand for independent school education in BC is clear and growing,” said Jason Clemens, Fraser Institute executive vice-president and author of Waitlists for Independent Schools in British Columbia’s Lower Mainland.
“But the high cost of purchasing and developing land for school expansion, especially in Metro Vancouver, is proving to be an obstacle preventing independent schools from meeting parental demand.”
In 2011/12, more than 2,170 students were waitlisted for an independent school in the Lower Mainland, which represents, on average, 14.3 percent of the total number of students attending a school with a waitlist. Schools reporting waitlists also indicated that, on average, there was a waitlist for more than half of the grades in their school, while 27.3 per cent reported a waitlist for every grade.
The study notes that public school enrolment has dropped by 11.3 per cent since its peak in 1997/98, while at the same time independent school enrolment has increased by 22.4 per cent.
“Today, independent school enrolment represents 11.6 per cent of all K-12 students across the province, and that number is growing,” Clemens said.
The study notes that only 27 per cent of independent schools surveyed said they were able to accommodate all or most (90 to 100 per cent) of the students on their waitlists. Sixty-one per cent of schools said they could accommodate up to half of the waitlisted students, while almost 40 per cent of schools said they could only accommodate between one and 20 per cent of students on waitlists.
A telling indicator of parental demand emerged from religious schools surveyed, of which 73 per cent indicated they had students attending their school who were of a different religious background or who were non-religious.
The report makes practical recommendations to help alleviate independent school waitlists, such as encouraging independent schools to take advantage of idle and vacant public school facilities.
“Survey respondents indicated that one of the principal barriers to independent school expansion is the cost associated with purchasing and developing land for new facilities,” Clemens said.
“Any policy that reduces these costs, even marginally, would help independent schools respond to parental demand.”
A total of 96 surveys were received from independent schools throughout Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley—a response rate of 67.1 per cent. Participating independent schools were compared across five broad characteristics (grades covered; religious affiliation, if any; nature of non-religious schools; school size by number of students; and geographic location) and found to be generally representative.