Fraser Forum

Independent schools across Canada face diverse regulations

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Canada’s expanding independent school sector is rich in diversity. Not only are parents increasingly choosing from an array of independent schools for their children, but each province regulates and funds independent schools in diverse ways.

Despite declining school-age populations in almost every province over the last 15 years, enrolment in independent schools has continued to increase. It appears parents want more diversity in education and are looking beyond their local public school to get it.

Many independent schools offer diverse approaches to education simply not provided in public schools. About half are religion-oriented and, depending on the province, include Catholic, Christian, Jewish, Islamic and more. The others offer diverse approaches to teaching such as Montessori, Waldorf, or online education, or emphasize subjects such as arts, athletics, or science and math.  

Less commonly known is the diversity of approaches to funding and regulating independent schools among provinces. A recent analysis found 22 categories of independent schools across Canada, depending on how they’re regulated and funded by the province.

Half the provinces offer different levels of partial funding for independent schools while the other half—Ontario and the Atlantic provinces—do not. In addition, three of the five provinces offering funding have at least two different funding categories and every province has at least one category of non-funded independent schools.

But it’s not all diversity. Several consistencies exist.

Within each of the five provinces offering funding for independent schools—British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Quebec—funded independent schools generally operate under higher levels of regulation than those receiving no funding. Funded schools are required to follow provincial curriculum, hire provincially certified teachers and participate in provincial assessments. And the funding, although it follows the student, goes to the qualifying school and not to the parents.

Even so, there’s variation in the level of regulation independent school in different categories face. Schools in one category of non-funded schools in Alberta must also hire provincially-certified teachers and, even more stringently, one of the non-funded categories in B.C. and all the non-funded independent schools in Quebec are required to hire provincially-certified teachers and use provincial curriculum.

Further diversity can be noted when comparing the more than a dozen non-funded categories across the provinces. Requirements for opening an independent school vary widely from, in Ontario, supplying an annual notice of intention to operate with minimal statistical details (subject to verification), to provision of detailed education plans in many provinces including Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Quebec. Moreover, Ontario independent schools are not inspected unless they are secondary schools seeking to grant provincial secondary diploma credits, whereas all non-funded independent schools, for example, in Saskatchewan are inspected annually.

At a time when parents are seeking more diversity in education, it’s important to know that Canada is home to a wide variety of independent schools and a wide diversity of regulatory environments. Just as parents choosing an independent school have more options for their child’s education, so policymakers and others assessing and improving the regulation of independent schools in their province have a diversity of examples to consider in Canada.


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