English public schools becoming less popular in Saskatchewan

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Appeared in the Saskatoon StarPhoenix, July 6, 2017

Choosing a school other than your local English public school is increasingly popular in Canada, and Saskatchewan is no exception.

Indeed, according to a recent analysis of ministry of education student enrolment data by the Fraser Institute, the share of students attending English public schools in Saskatchewan showed one of the greatest declines in Canada over a 15-year period. Conversely, an increasing share of Saskatchewan students attended French public schools, Roman Catholic separate schools (a hot topic in the province right now), independent schools and homeschooling for their K-12 education.

Although the English public system remains the dominant education choice, compared to 2000/01 a smaller share of students attended a public school in 2014/15 (the latest year of comparable data). Indeed, at the end of the period analysed, fewer than three of every four students were enrolled in the province’s English public school system.

To be sure, Saskatchewan has fewer school-age students (a 9.3 per cent decline in 5 to 17 year olds in the province over the period) so we’d expect, and observe, a corresponding decline in public school enrolments.

But it was not only a declining number of students enrolled in public schools that stands out in this recent analysis, but rather the change in the proportion of students in English public school—77.5 per cent in 2000/01 compared to 73.3 per cent in 2014/15. Not only was this an 11.2 per cent decline in enrolments, but it was a noticeable decline in the share of students in the province attending English public schools—one of the largest such declines in the country.

So where did the increased remaining share of students go?

Saskatchewan has three public school systems—English public, French public and separate Roman Catholic. French public increased the share of student attending their schools—from 0.5 per cent to 0.9 per cent. And Catholic schools increased their share from 19.9 per cent to 22.1 per cent.

Additionally, an increased share attended non-government options. Two types exist in Saskatchewan—independent schools and homeschooling. Both options are permitted, and in many cases, some funding is available to qualifying independent schools and homeschooling families.

The independent school sector almost doubled enrolments. These independently owned and operated schools are home to diverse religious or pedagogical orientations such as Christian, Jewish, Islamic or Montessori or arts-based education. Enrolments are modest (under 4,300 students in 2014/15), and the share of students attending remains small, but it increased from 1.2 per cent to 2.4 per cent of all student enrolments.

Homeschooling enrolments tell a similar story of growth. Enrolments are also modest (less than 2,200 students) but the share of all Saskatchewan homeschool students rose from 0.9 per cent (in 2000/01) to 1.2 per cent of students (in 2014/15). Just behind Manitoba and Alberta, Saskatchewan shows the highest share of homeschooled students in Canada.

Shifts in K-12 student enrolments make at least one thing clear—an increasing share of Saskatchewan students and their families are choosing something other than government-provided English public schools for their children.

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