In June, the Fraser Institute’s Barbara Mitchell Centre for Improvement in Education released a study – the first of its kind in Canada – on the country’s current independent (private) schools, finding that that they are not the elitist institutions of popular imagination. The Fraser Institute study says they are diverse schools, represented by religious and specialty learning methods that many Canadian parents feel is best for their children.

The study found that there are 1,935 independent schools here in Canada and they educate 368,717 students in all ten provinces. This number accounts for 6.8 per cent of the total independent and public school enrolments.

Nearly half of these schools are religiously oriented, with Christian non-Catholic accounting for 30.1 per cent of them, Catholic 8.4 per cent, Islamic 4.9 per cent, and Jewish 4.5 per cent.

It was also found that 30 per cent of independent schools are classified as specialty schools: Montessori, Waldorf, arts/sports/STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), distributed learning, special education.

Surprisingly only 4.7 percent of independent schools in Canada are CAIS schools (schools that embody the popular private preparatory school stereotype). Thus an overwhelming 95 per cent are not what would be called prep schools.

A 2015 study, also of the Barbara Mitchell Centre for Improvement in Education, noted a decline in public school enrolment of at least 300,000 students since 2003, a reduction that is not entirely explainable by declining school-age population. However, it found that the enrolment in independent/private schooling had increased in nine of the ten provinces over the same time period.

Ed Noot of Christian Schools Canada says parents value choice in their children's education.

Ed Noot of Christian Schools Canada says parents value choice in their children’s education.

Ed Noot, executive director of Christian Schools Canada, attributed growing private school enrolment to “the value parents place on having choice in their children’s education.” Noot told The Interim that, “a significant group of parents are so committed to educational choice that they are willing to pay for it,” explaining, “the ‘one size fits all approach’ to K-12 education is not meeting the needs of all Canadian parents.”

Noot said, “if parents have values that they believe are not reflected in the public schools system then they may look elsewhere.” He said, “the growth of independent schools in Canada demonstrates the importance parents place on having choice in education as supported in articles 18 and 26 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” Asked specifically about the growth of independent Christian school enrolment, Noot responded: “in many households of faith the parents view faith as being integral to who they are. As such, they expect their children’s school to honour and respect their faith commitment, along with the faith commitments of others in Canadian multi-cultural society.”