Independent school enrolment up, public school enrolment down in B.C.

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Appeared in the Vancouver Province, June 28, 2017

There’s a strong possibility that the funding for independent schools—non-government schools that charge tuition—will be “reviewed” by the likely new NDP government in British Columbia despite the growing preference for independent schools by B.C. families.

A recent study analyzed changes in enrolment from 2000-01 to 2014-15 in the various options for K-12 education—public schools (both English public and French public), independent schools and homeschooling. It found that not only had the total number of students enrolled in public schools declined, but crucially, the proportion of students attending public schools had also decreased.

Of course the overall population of school-aged children (ages of 5 to 17) has fallen in every province (except Alberta) over the same period. Obviously a falling school-aged population leads to declining enrolments.

However, when enrolments are considered as a share of total enrolment, a different picture emerges. In addition to a declining absolute number of students in public schools, a smaller share of students (and their families) are choosing public schools and a larger share are choosing independent schools.

In B.C., the number of students attending a public school, measured as a share of total overall enrolment, declined from 90.6 per cent in 2000-01 to 86.8 per cent in 2014-15. If broken down further, an even more marked decline is observed in English public school attendance, where the share of enrolment decreased from 90.2 per cent to 85.9 per cent of total enrolment. (Over the same period, French public schools increased from 0.4 per cent to 0.9 per cent of total enrolment.)

When a family in B.C. decides that a public school is not their preferred choice for the education of their children, they most frequently turn to an independent school instead.

Independent schools, which are independently owned and operated, and often affiliated with a particular religion or offering a unique pedagogical approach, saw enrolment rise 35 per cent (59,734 students to 80,636) between 2000-01 and 2014-15. More illustrative of the shifts in parental preferences for independent school education is the fact that as a share of total enrolment, independent school students increased from 8.7 per cent to 12.9 per cent.

In fact, B.C. surpassed Quebec with the highest rate of independent school enrolment.

What the data shows is clear—more and more families in British Columbia are choosing an education for their children outside of government-run public schools. Policymakers would be wise to take note.

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