Fraser Forum

Ontario separate school enrolment down 6.2 per cent over 15 years

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In Canada, depending on geographical location, families may be able to choose a public school in either official language, a separate Catholic school, an independent school, a charter school, or decide to educate their children themselves through homeschooling. While the majority of students are still educated in public schools in the dominant language of their area (French in Quebec, English in the other nine provinces), more and more families are looking at alternatives.

In addition to public schools offered in both official languages, three provinces—Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario—also offer the option of attending a fully-funded separate school. Most separate schools in these provinces are Roman Catholic, although there’s one Protestant separate board in Ontario and Saskatchewan. Additionally, all three provinces offer Roman Catholic instruction in both official languages. 

In Alberta and Saskatchewan, the francophone school districts operate both secular and Roman Catholic schools, and French-language Catholic school enrolment is captured as part of the total francophone public school enrolment numbers. However, Ontario has francophone separate school boards operating distinctly from its francophone public school boards, so we’re able to isolate those numbers here.

In 2014-15, separate school enrolment accounted for a meaningful portion of the total student enrolment in each of the three provinces:  24.9 per cent in Alberta, 22.8 per cent in Saskatchewan and 29.4 per cent in Ontario. 

In Alberta, separate school enrolment grew both in nominal terms and as a share of total enrolment between 2000-01 and 2014-15. Specifically, the number of students attending a separate school increased 24.6 per cent over the period, and the portion of total enrolment increased from 21.8 per cent in 2000-01 to 24.9 per cent in 2014-15.

Saskatchewan also saw a small increase in nominal enrolment (4.1 per cent). The portion of total enrolment has increased from 19.9 per cent in 2000-01 to 22.8 per cent in 2014-15.

In contrast, Ontario has experienced declining enrolment in separate schools in both absolute terms (6.2 per cent) and as a share of total enrolment—from 30.1 per cent in 2000-01 to 29.4 per cent in 2014-15. Interestingly, there has been a decline in anglophone separate school enrolment (26.8 per cent of total enrolment in 2000-01 to 26.1 per cent in 2014-15) while francophone separate school enrolment increased marginally from 3.3 per cent to 3.4 per cent of total enrolment over the same period.

In provinces that offer families the option to choose fully-funded Catholic education for their children, separate schools enrol a significant percentage of students. However, it’s important to remember that seven out of 10 provinces do not have separate boards.  

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