Virtually every private school in the country takes in new students every year who are moving there from public schools. We asked six independent school leaders to share common reasons students make the switch, what private schools offer that make it a positive decision, and the challenges they may face.
Typical reasons for switching
They’re looking for more. More attention, more and better chances for university entrance and scholarship, more challenge, more from themselves and from their friends. A place where teachers pay attention and care. I find we’re getting more students who have been bullied. They want an emotionally safer environment, peers that are accepting. It doesn’t matter whether you are First Nation, German or African Canadian, whether you’re male, female, gay. It starts from the core with school culture. Where the rubber meets the road is in the dorms, the classrooms and the locker rooms, in the hallways, the student lounge. Students have to feel comfortable to be themselves, regardless of their religion, the colour of their skin, whether they’re skinny or overweight.
Joseph (Joe) Seagram, Head of School at King’s-Edgehill School, Windsor, NS
In some cases, there’s an unhappiness with a particular situation at the public school. They’ve heard about us from other parents. Sometimes the parent came here, and they want their children to. It’s more a positive reason than negative, more of a pull than a push. They know about the small class sizes, individual attention, focus on academics, the support.Peter Sturrup Headmaster, Pickering College Pickering, ONIt’s hard to maintain a sense of community if you have too large a school population. Quite often it comes down to the learning style. We tend to be very experiential in our approach to education.
David Eifert, Headmaster at Progressive Academy, Edmonton
Nowadays, it’s for the opportunities. Kids are voting with their feet. They can, at the press of a couple of keys, look at photos, watch videos, see the activities that are going on, and get a sense of the atmosphere. There’s always a percentage that need a more formal structure, maybe held more accountable more often.David Robertson Headmaster, Shawnigan Lake SchoolShawnigan Lake, BCChildren are known well by the staff. The onus is on teachers, administration and the whole school culture to make the child happy. Our tagline is that happy children learn best. If you have a happy child who wants to come to school, nothing is going to make a parent happier than that.
Tim Peters, Headmaster at The Priory School, Montreal
Challenges – at first
Student achievement increases. It seems paradoxical because expectations are higher, there is a greater workload. ‘Student for a day’ is popular. I ask, ’did anything surprise you?’ Almost always, it’s how focussed the kids are in class. People don’t come to parent-teacher interviews and get surprised. My honour roll is not based on achievement, it is based on effort. I would much rather have someone who’s busting a gut to get 75 on the honour roll than someone who’s cruising and got a 92. Who do I want to hire?
Joe Seagram, King’s-Edgehill School
The expectation and homework. My daughter came through public school. The expectation in subjects was the same. The difference might be that we follow up. If somebody doesn’t get something, we won’t just move on. We review ’til they understand, with things like ‘power hour’ for math.
Billy Gilliland, Principal at Edison School, Okotoks, AB
We require a great deal of independence, so accepting that and being able to manage it. Project-based learning takes a lot of initiative. The teacher cannot always be telling them ‘this is how you’re going to do it, when you’re going to do it’.
C-Anne Robertson, Progressive Academy
Some hit the ground running and never look back. But a fair few have difficulty with the lack of free time, because they’re always expected to be somewhere. But I’ve lost count of how many kids talk about that at the end. ’I’m so glad I just hung in there for that first month’.
David Robertson, Shawnigan Lake School
You might think there might be a challenge socially. But all the schools I know put so much resources into making sure there’s a seamless transition. The first week of class is a trip of some sort; the teachers know who’s new and pair them up with good mentors. They’re putting the parents in touch, so they have playdates right away.
Tim Peters, The Priory School
Advice for helping adjustCome and have a look. You’ll see by the expressions on their faces, the way they interact, that they’re happy and fulfilled. Don’t be deterred by the cost. Independent schools are working hard to make sure we stay accessible. We have students from modest backgrounds. It’s good for all; they learn real friendship has nothing to do with material goods. It’s lovely when you see a kid whose Dad works on the grounds, for example, taking home a kid that you know lives in a mansion. But they’re spending the weekend with their friend, their roommate.
David Robertson Shawnigan Lake School