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Privately Speaking – your glossary

Private and Independent schools have their own jargon. Here we at Parents Canada provide a glossary to help parents navigate this new language.

private and/or independent school

Some define independent schools as non-profit schools which are separate from the government-funded, publicly run system, and private schools as those which are separate but for profit. In Canada, however, people generally use the terms interchangeably – referring to all schools independent from the public system. That’s what we have done in this publication.

ACIS – American Council for International Studies

An organization which provides educational travel experiences for students through their schools.


The official approval of a national or international organization that assesses independent schools to determine whether they meet established standards of accountability, education quality, and transferability of courses between schools.

admission test

An entrance examination most private and independent schools give as part of their admissions process. The test helps schools assess a potential student’s reading, writing and mathematics skills.


A teacher assigned to a student in high school to act as an adult mentor outside the classroom. Advisors meet regularly with and monitor their students to help ensure the different aspects of school life are going well.

AP (Advanced Placement)

A program developed by the College Board organization in the United States. AP courses are university-level courses offered in high school, and available in many subjects.


An educational program for children with learning disabilities. It employs concepts from neuroscience research. Cognitive exercises are used to address learning weaknesses.

boarding school

A school in which students study and live, whether during the weekdays (returning home on weekends) or for the semester.

CAIS – Canadian Accredited Independent Schools

A accrediting body for and network of independent schools across the country.

CCMA – Canadian Council of Montessori Administrators

An accrediting body for Montessori schools in Canada.

coeducational (co-ed)

A school in which male and female students attend and learn together.

day school

A school students attend during the day, returning to their homes for the rest of the afternoon and night.

differentiated instruction

An instructional approach in which teachers convey a curriculum using a variety of teaching methods in order to accommodate the varied learning styles of students.

direct instruction

A traditional method of teaching in which teachers instruct children about a subject using a specific lesson plan and lectures.

experiential learning

Learning through experience – or learning by doing.

form teacher

The homeroom teacher.

head of college, head of school or headmaster

The staff member in charge of the school – responsible for hiring and supervising staff, representing the governing body of the school (such as the board of trustees), supervising all school programs, representing the school to outside organizations, advocating for the school, etc. Similar to a principal in public school.

IB (International Baccalaureate)

An educational foundation that offers four international curriculum programs, including the DP – Diploma Program – first available in 1968. Schools must be authorized by the IB organization in order to offer the programs.

inclusion education

An educational environment in which diversity is embraced, and where all students can feel they belong and contribute.

inquiry-based learning

A process in which students ask questions and investigate widely to answer them in order to build knowledge and understanding. Inquiry-based learning can be student- or teacher-led.


A student-centred, individualized early childhood educational approach developed by Dr. Maria Montessori in the early 1900s and popularized in the 1950s.


The method and practice of teaching.

preparatory school (also referred to as ‘prep’ school)

A school which prepares students for university studies.

public school

A school which is funded through public tax dollars and overseen and/or administered by a provincial or territorial government.

Reggio Emilia

An educational approach founded by Italian teacher Loris Malaguzzi in the city of Emilia Romagna after World War II. It is a complex approach that includes emphasizing independent thinking, cooperation, the layout of schools in ways that encourage learning and discovery, and documenting children’s daily experiences.

Round Square

A network of schools around the world which educate according to the learning theories of education philosopher Kurt Hahn, and emphasize cultural, academic and spiritual experiences.

SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test)

A widely used standardized assessment test for colleges and universities to determine whether a student is likely to succeed in their programs. It tests reading, math and writing skills acquired during school years.

Singapore Math

A company which markets the fun, intensive math textbooks developed by the government of Singapore – a country which has consistently ranked at the top in studies on math education around the world. Singapore Math has also become a general term for education programs based on the approach to math education in Singapore (excellent teacher knowledge of math, fostering an early love of math in students, and focussed, in-depth mathematics instruction from the beginning).

SSAT (Secondary School Admission Test)

An admission test used by many private and independent schools as part of the process for determining a student’s entrance. There are three different levels of the test available, depending on the age of the child and the grade at which they wish to enter a school.


An educational philosophy which emphasizes experiential learning in a calm, home-like setting.

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