Share of students attending independent schools increasing in every province

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Appeared in the Winnipeg Sun, June 27, 2017

The share of students attending public schools in Canada continues to decline while independent schools and homeschooling are growing more popular.

Although public schools remain the dominant form of education for students in each province, a recent analysis of education ministry data shows that compared to 2000-01, a smaller share of students in each province attended a public school in 2014-15 (the latest year of comparable data).

Canada does have fewer school-age students (5 to 17 year olds) in every province except Alberta, which affects school enrolments across all types of schools. This is seen most dramatically in the Atlantic provinces, with each province experiencing a decline in its school-aged population of at least 15 per cent. Newfoundland and Labrador experienced the most pronounced decline (24.5 per cent) followed closely by Nova Scotia (24.3 per cent).

What’s most striking in the student enrolment data, given the overall decline in the school-aged population across Canada (excluding Alberta), is the proportion of students in each province that attend a government-run public school. In every province, a smaller share of students in 2014-15 attended a public school than did in 2000-01.

The most dramatic shift was in British Columbia, which saw its share of enrolment in public schools drop from 90.6 per cent in 2000-01 to 86.8 per cent in 2014-15. Next was Quebec, which declined from 90.6 per cent to 87.6 per cent over the same period.

The declining share of students attending government-run public schools is offset by an increasing number of parents choosing non-government options. Two main types exist in Canada—independent schools and homeschooling.

Consider independent schools, which are independently owned and operated and home to diverse religious and pedagogical orientations such as Catholic, Christian non-Catholic, Jewish, Islamic or Montessori or arts-based education. In every province the share of students attending independent schools increased. Independent schools in B.C. now enrol the largest share of any province’s students (12.9 per cent) followed by Quebec (12.3 per cent) and Manitoba (7.9 per cent).

Even Ontario now has 6.1 per cent of students attending independent schools. This is a province, unlike the three just mentioned, where the government offers no support to independent schools, which means, like all of Atlantic Canada, parents bear the full costs of independent schooling.

Homeschooling enrolments also show slight growth. Eight out of 10 provinces showed an increasing share of students being homeschooled since 2007-08 (the most recent year of comparable data), with B.C. and Quebec’s rates holding steady. Still, compared to independent school shares, homeschooling shares are modest with Manitoba having the highest share (1.5 per cent) of homeschooled students followed by Alberta (1.4 per cent) and Saskatchewan (1.2 per cent).

Shifts in K-12 student enrolments make at least one thing clear—an increasing share of students and their families across Canada are choosing something other than government-run public schools for their children. And are opting instead for independent schools and homeschooling—even when, in places like Ontario, they have to foot the whole bill.

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