Independent schools in British Columbia must comply with certain regulations in order to receive government funding. Henry Contant, executive director of the Society of Christian Schools in British Columbia (SCSBC) says that while the regulations certainly require effort to comply with, they are not onerous.
“Often those that live outside of B.C. believe there must be all kinds of strings attached to government funding for independent schools,” says Contant.
“If we accept government funding, will that undermine our autonomy and governance in independent schools? I know that’s a big question in Ontario.”
He points out first of all that funding and government requirements are not necessarily always tied together.
In Ontario, Christian high schools must follow certain government regulations in order for them to issue an Ontario high school diploma.
“So even though independent schools in Ontario receive no government funding, they have to comply with all kinds of requirements,” says Contant.
The regulations required of B.C. independent schools vary in stringency depending on the amount of funding they receive:
Group 1 schools receive 50 per cent of their local school district’s per student operating costs and must follow the most stringent standards.
Group 2 schools have slightly looser regulations and receive a 35 per cent funding level.
Groups 3 and 4 schools receive no government funding and must follow some basic requirements.
Ninety-five per cent of independent schools in B.C. are either Group 1 or 2 schools.
Some of the regulations for Group 1 and 2 schools include employing B.C. certified teachers, having educational programs consistent with ministerial orders and meeting various administrative and safety requirements.
“Many of the requirements we would want and expect of our schools even if they didn’t get government funding in the first place,” Contant points out. For example, the requirements include having safety regulations, employing certified teachers and meeting minimum time requirements.
Sometimes challenges come up in regard to the fact that the independent schools are required to demonstrate they have met the learning outcomes of the B.C. core curriculum.
The schools do have complete freedom in terms of methodology, student and teacher resources, and perspective in demonstrating that they meet those outcomes, says Contant.
Another past challenge was the requirement that high school students take the provincial government exams. However, the independent school movement has been able to deal with this positively by including independent school teachers on the provincial exam committees, says Contant.
“I can think of a situation where a science department head of one of our Christian schools actually chaired the government exam committee that put together and marked the grade 12 provincial biology exam,” says Contant.
Independent school educators have been able to provide input on the content of the exams alongside their public school colleagues.
Certified teachers and administrators from independent schools have also been able to contribute to the government teams which inspect independent schools.
Group 1 and 2 schools undergo an in-depth government inspection every six years. This is an onsite visit where an inspection team comes in and evaluates whether the school is in compliance with the Independent School Act and its regulations and that the school is also actually doing in practice what it reports to be doing to the Ministry of Education. A monitoring visit takes place every two years, between major evaluations.
Contant says having people from independent schools on the inspection teams has helped with the regulation process.
“They’re people that understand the nature, purpose and nuances of independent schools in B.C.,” he says.
Contant, a former principal of an independent school, has been seconded by the B.C. Ministry of Education to inspect independent schools for the past 21 years.