Independent schools in Ontario have several areas of best practices that the public education system can learn from, says Doretta Wilson.
“(Independent schools) can complement the public education system, they can offer and support parental values and often use teaching methods that aren’t necessarily used in public education,” says Wilson.
Wilson, executive director of Society for Quality Education, says independent schools often support values that parents want for their children and offer a different style of education. When parents have the ability to choose the school their children attend their educational values can better align with what’s important in the home.
Parents are often looking for a school that has a safe environment for their child, and this is one reason they choose an independent school, she says.
“At independent schools, there’s an approach that’s working, parents are happy with it,” says Wilson.
“I think if things are working well in Christian schools; if there is high academic achievement, low behaviour problems, maybe they can teach something to the regular public education system,” says Wilson.
There is more flexibility in programs and teaching styles at independent schools, she says. This contrasts with the “cookie-cutter” approach sometimes found in public education, notes Wilson.
“(Public school) teachers are encouraged to do certain teaching methods and sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t, and maybe they could learn from other teachers and expand their horizons that way,” she says.
The strong parental involvement in many independent schools is another area the public system could learn from, she says. In the public education system parents are invited to be involved in school councils, but in many places this is not at a governance level and is very erratic, says Wilson.
At independent schools where parents pay to send their children there is “a different level of accountability,” says Wilson. Depending on the school, there are different models of governance.
“It seems one of the characteristics of good schools are schools that have parental involvement, they monitor how their kids are doing, they are in the school helping if they can, they keep an eye on things, and that’s a hallmark of a good school,” she says.
Faith-based independent schools are in the spotlight as Ontario gears up for the Oct. 10 election. Progressive Conservative leader John Tory has proposed inviting all faith-based schools into the public system. Currently, parents who choose to send their children to faith-based schools (outside of the Catholic system) pay tuition.
“People shouldn’t be worried about the impact of this,” says Wilson of the Conservatives proposal. Though there are a few “strings attached” for schools who access funding under Tory’s plan, the schools have the choice of whether to accept the funding or remain independent.
Wilson says the proposal is an olive branch being offered, and a positive thing. She adds that other provinces have extended public funding to faith-based schools, and it is working fine.
Inviting faith-based schools into the public education system would improve school choice for parents and have a positive impact on public education, she says.
“Parents who are empowered to make other educational choices for their children are the incentive for the public system to improve, because otherwise they may lose students. If you were losing students then you’d want to bring them back, and this is a good way to bring them back to public education,” says Wilson.