Parents choosing private school education for their children do so for a wide variety of reasons. Essentially private schools offer collectively what the public schools do not or can not offer, choice. Below are some of the qualities of private schools that many parents find important and worth the investment.
Enriched Academic Opportunities
One of the accepted benefits of private schools is that they provide exceptional and challenging educational experiences through extracurricular activities, Advanced Placement courses, and the International Baccalaureate programme, just to name a few. “The IB programme focuses on school work and on developing the whole person. Private school students constantly score top marks on standardized tests and college entrance exams, and many schools have a 100 per cent rate of students attending their university of choice.
A comprehensive study on class size made by educational researchers Bruce Biddler and David Berliner in 2002 showed that the smaller the class size, the better the average student performs on academic achievement tests. Speaking from my 25+ years teaching experience I can say that without a doubt small class size is the single most beneficial aspect to improved learning. Interactions between student and teacher is more frequent and students are far less likely to fall between the cracks.
Most independent schools are built around open communication between parents and administration, and they make it a priority to involve parents in the community. From frequent parent-teacher meetings, social events such as parent breakfasts and family camping weekends, and the participation of parent committees in fundraising initiatives, families become an integral part of the child’s education. This common ground also helps strengthen parent-child relationships. Some independent schools include parent members, both past and present on the board giving parents the power to implement policy changes within the school.
In my experience most teachers become teachers because they are by nature caring and dedicated people who enjoy their work. I have seen this in both the public and private sector. The essential difference however is that in the private sector teachers are much more likely to work effectively as a team to the benefit of the student. The community within the private institution is generally very tight and student progress is monitored by the entire faculty as a group. In most cases private school faculty are not part of a union and teacher accountability and assessment is ongoing and effective. The key to any private school is the strength of it faculty, thus professional development is better supported in the private institution. These factors improve the working environment better for teachers in independent schools which tends to foster increased loyalty and dedication.
A Safe Environment
Private schools have reputations for maintaining high standards for discipline and respect. Lower staff-to-student ratios allow for more effective observation and control of school grounds. The strong sense of community found in private schools also discourages dangerous behaviour. In the Fraser Institute study, around 72 per cent of parents surveyed with children in the private school system strongly agreed that their school was safe, which greatly improves the quality of the child’s educational experience and achievement. The discipline they learn also improves their rates for success in post-secondary education when they are in control of their class attendance and achievement.
Independent schools encourage and promote environments that are supportive, collaborative, and nurturing. As a rule new students form friendships easily. This can be directly related to small class sizes and programs that are often unique to the private sector. Adviser groups for instance at St. George’s School in Montreal replaces the classic “homeroom” concept. They are comprised of students from several grades. Older students provide positive role models to the younger ones and help them integrate into the school community. Friendships formed in private schools often last a lifetime and the alumni provide a growing network of resources to the school.
While academics remain the priority for most private schools, many also place a strong focus on a well-rounded education and encourage participation in extracurricular activities such as sports, music, arts or clubs. This involvement helps stimulate students in their studies, as noted in a study at Stanford University that found that students involved in the arts are more motivated to learn and are three times more likely to win a school attendance award. Grant MacDonald, whose two daughters attend Newbridge Academy, says that sport “has become part of their daily life. It has made them more focused. They’re both doing very well academically.” Extracurricular activities can provide a much-needed break from the stresses of academics while developing skills and engaging in valuable social situations.
Shared Educational Philosophy
There are innumerable approaches to education, and finding a school that matches one’s own perspective can create a positive, productive academic experience for your child. Whether you prefer the student-directed learning method of Montessori, or the arts-based curriculum of a Waldorf school, choosing the right private school will not only allow students to thrive in a supportive environment and build independence, but also gain unique skills that fit their learning style. Parent Erin Craig states of her experience, “Montessori seems to be able to individualize the focus so it pulls out of them what it needs too.”
Development for Today’s and Tomorrow’s World
Private schools go beyond offering the mandatory subjects required by provincial curriculum; they can offer students a wide range of specializations including arts programs, athletics, math, science. Private schools are responsible for producing many leaders in politics, business and society, with a history of adapting quickly to changes in technology and culture. And today, they are also sought by parents of kids with special needs such as behaviour problems or learning disabilities. “This school really helps you focus and think about your future, and how you want your life to be,” says Nisha Sharma, a Grade 12 student last year at Pinehurst School.