Some private schools place the emphasis on sports or cater for students with artistic talent in art, drama, dance or music. There are also schools emphasising activities such as outdoor living or which adhere to a particular educational philosophy, such as Montessori and Waldorf schools. Although most Canadian private schools prepare students for entry to a Canadian college or university, some international schools prepare students for the International Baccalaureate (IB) examination. Some private schools teach exclusively in a foreign language, e.g. Cantonese, follow traditional curricula and prepare students for examinations set by examining boards in their home country.
Private schools are organised like public schools, although the curricula and approach differ considerably. They range from nursery schools to large day and boarding schools, from experimental and progressive schools to traditional institutions, and include progressive schools with a holistic approach to a child’s development and schools with a strict traditional and conservative regime, and a rigid and competitive approach to learning. School work in private schools is usually rigorous and demanding, and students often have a great deal of homework and pressure. Many parents favour this competitive ‘work ethic’ approach and expect their offspring to work hard to justify the expense.
Fees vary considerably depending on a variety of factors, including the age of students, the reputation and quality of the school and its location (schools in major cities are usually the most expensive). Fees aren’t all-inclusive and additional obligatory fees are payable, plus fees for optional services. Unless you’re rich or someone else is paying, you usually need to start saving before you have any children, although there are some federal tax breaks. Some schools offer payment plans to attract new students. In addition to tuition fees, most private schools solicit parents for contributions (some schools are quite aggressive and verbal in their requests). Most schools provide scholarships for gifted and talented students, although they may be restricted to children from poorer families or ethnic minorities. Some schools have large endowments, enabling them to accept any students they wish, irrespective of their parents’ ability to pay.
Private schools provide a broad-based education and generally offer a varied approach to sport, music, drama, art and a wide choice of academic subjects, e.g. some schools offer horse-riding or skiing during school hours or unusual subjects such as speleology (the scientific study of caves). Due to their smaller classes, teachers in private schools are able to provide students with individually-tailored lessons and tuition, rather than teaching on a production-line system. Private schools employ specialist staff, e.g. reading specialists, tutors to help those with difficulties, and specialists to assist students who wish to accelerate their learning or work independently. Most private schools also offer after-school programmes, sports teams, clubs, enrichment programmes and tutorial classes.
When making an application, you should do so as far in advance as possible. It’s usually easier to gain entry to the first grade than to get your child into a later grade, where entry is strictly limited. Entry may be facilitated for foreign children because many schools consider it an advantage to have a wide selection of foreign students. Gaining entrance to a prominent private school is difficult, particularly in major cities, and you can never guarantee that a particular school will accept your child. Although many nursery and elementary schools accept children on a first-come, first-served basis, the best and most exclusive schools have a demanding selection procedure and many have waiting lists. Therefore you shouldn’t rely on enrolling your child in a particular school and neglect other alternatives.
Before enrolling your child in a private school, make sure that you understand the withdrawal conditions in the school contract, particularly if you plan to stay in Canada for a limited time only. Before sending your child to a particular private school, irrespective of its reputation, you should consider carefully your child’s needs, capabilities and maturity. For example, it’s important to ensure that a school’s curriculum and regime are neither too strict nor too liberal for your child.
Directories of private schools are available in most reference libraries in Canada, from the provincial Ministry of Education or from the Canadian Association of Independent Schools (12 Bannockburn Avenue, Toronto, ON M5M 2M8, 416-780 1779, www.cais.ca).