Ontario Upholds Fa­milies Freedom in Private Education: Private Schools

May 31, 2021

By Gayle Hanlon,

Parent Advocate & Coach

Parents want their children to thrive, not only in school but also in life. The problem is that compulsory common schools don’t allow students to pursue their passions, travel, or learn naturally. Children are deprived of agency, consent, wonder, and freedom under this system, and it can leave students feeling bored, bullied, anxious, depressed, or stressed. Every child has an innate genius and life purpose that they must be free to explore. What a lot of families do not know is that they have the right to make their own educational decisions free from outside mandates.

With Ontario parents becoming increasingly dissatisfied with the state of public education, Covid 19 & the economy, a spotlight shines on problems with the common schools. Now, private schools, homeschooling, and unschooling stand out more than ever as the curtain has been pulled back to expose the limitations of the common school system. A new book The State of the System by Paul Bennett is one such reflection, however, these issues have existed previously to the pandemic and our government has always known about them. That is why Ontario has always had options for parents who want and need something different for their children. Ontario supports parents’ rights and freedoms in private education:

Many parents, having become unsatisfied with the public-school education, choose to send their children to Ontario Private (or Independent/Alternative) Schools (Learning Communities/Academies) because they want to make sure their child is in an environment that (1) is safe, (2) offers a supportive, nurturing environment including self-directed learning, (3) emphasizing character development, (4) provides trustworthy curriculum, and (5) has outstanding teachers.

  • Ontario Law Supports Families Choice

 What is a Private School?

Under subsection 1(1) of the Education Act2, a private school is defined as:

“an institution at which instruction is provided at any time between the hours of 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. on any school day for five or more pupils who are of or over compulsory school age in any of the subjects of the elementary or secondary school courses of study… “

­­There are two types of private schools operating in Ontario:

Non-Inspected private schools include all private elementary schools as well as any private secondary schools that do not provide courses offering credits toward the Ontario Secondary School Diploma (OSSD). These schools are not required to follow the Ontario curriculum, although they must still offer instruction in any of the subjects in the elementary or secondary courses of study.

Inspected private schools are seeking or have been given authority by the Ministry to provide courses offering credits toward the OSSD. This includes private schools offering a combined elementary-secondary curriculum (in which case only the secondary school will be inspected) and private schools offering credits in an online environment.”

There are private schools, including outdoor or nature schools that offer excellent education and have programs that are particularly suited to certain students including those that don’t use grade levels or standardized tests to provide instruction in any of those subjects and courses of study. Download the full list of private schools in Ontario HERE. As of May 31, 2021, there are a total of 1508 private schools in Ontario, 830 of which are NON-Inspected Private schools, 150 of which are Secondary Schools. You will find, year-round schools, nature schools, religious schools, STEM schools, arts schools, and so many more.

Private Schools operating in Ontario are subject to the Education Act. The parts of the Education Act that apply to private schools Section 1(1) of the Education Act requires that private schools:

  1. Provide instruction any time between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. on any school day
  2. Have five or more students;
  3. Have students of compulsory school age
  4. Provide instruction in any (but not necessarily all) of the subjects of the elementary or secondary school course of study.

The freedoms that apply to private schools are listed on Page 7 of the Ministry of Education’s Private Schools Policy and Procedures Manual that contains the following passage:

  • How are Private Schools Different from Publicly-Funded Schools?

“In Ontario, private schools operate as businesses or non-profit organizations, independently of the Ministry of Education. Private schools do not receive any funding or other financial support from the Ontario government.

Private school operators set their own policies and procedures regarding the operation of their schools, and are not obliged to comply with the policies and procedures that school boards must follow. For example:

  • Private schools are not required to use the Ontario curriculum unless they are seeking authority to grant credits toward the OSSD. Those that do may also offer other content beyond the Ontario curriculum.
  • In Ontario private schools, principals are not required to have Ontario principal’s qualifications, and teachers are not required to be members of the Ontario College of Teachers (OCT) or have OCT certification.
  • Private schools are not authorized to deliver correspondence courses, which are delivered through the Independent Learning Centre (ILC). However, a private school can host the student taking such courses.
  • Private schools may, but are not required to, communicate student achievement using either the Elementary Provincial Report Card (for Grades 1-8) or the Provincial Report Card (for Grades 9-12).

Despite this flexibility, any person, business, or non-profit entity wishing to operate a private school in Ontario must do so in accordance with the legal requirements of the Act, and with the policies and procedures detailed in this manual.”

  • Variety and Consent

When it comes to private schools, there are rules that the school must follow. Most of the requirements are set out in Section 16 of the Education Act. Those rules relate mostly to upholding confidential privacy and statistical reporting, such as giving the Ministry the annual “Notice of Intention to Operate a Private School”, and providing the Ministry with statistical information about the number of students, staff, approximate grade levels, ages, gender and special/French education. There are more rules for private schools that want to award Ontario Secondary School Diplomas, but not for non-inspected private schools. Private schools must pay the ministry a fee to be inspected and offer credits.

Private schools, are at liberty to offer individualized instruction, and generally encounter fewer, if not 0 instances of bullying. When students are given agency, choice, responsibility and consent they learn responsible citizenry.

The standards that private schools must follow are in their contract with the parents. Parents should look at the contract carefully and ask questions. Most private school contracts include a Code of Conduct.

Private schools can decide who to employ at their schools rather than having to hire someone who has a teaching degree but no experience in a field. Private schools can hire professionals such as artists, creators, musicians, coding & IT professionals, chefs, financial planners, electricians, accountants, dentists, make-up artists, entrepreneurs, dancers, human resources specialists, naturopaths, and so many more real people with real skills who help children learn subjects in their natural “real life” habitats. Read more about 6 Unique Canadian Schools in the Huffington Post

  • How do families choose?

It is very important that parents do their research before enrolling their child in any school private or otherwise. They need to be clear about what sort of education they want to be offered to their child and how and by whom they would like it offered. If teachers are board-certified and with the Ontario College of Teachers you can look them up by name to research if they have had any misconduct or other disciplinary hearings also a free online database of decisions by courts and administrative tribunals here.

Parents need to ask questions such as: what is the educational philosophy and methodology of the school? who decides the curriculum and why? what protection from bullying or what special assistance their child may receive? what is the school’s code of conduct? how are children disciplined? These things should be included in the contract with the school. You may want to enquire about any affiliations might the school have, OFIS (Ontario Federation of Independent Schools), CAIS (Canadian Accredited Independent Schools), AERO (Alternative Education Resource Organization, and many more. Legally the school is at liberty to create its own rules.

Obviously, it is also important to find out about the school’s reputation and review references or testimonials – as people would do with any investment. The Ministry of Education has very little power to assist dissatisfied parents. Tens of thousands of satisfied parents and students enjoy the flexibility and freedoms we have in Ontario, please make sure you understand and communicate your desires. Let’s challenge those assumptions in education to better serve our children. Ontario supports your freedom in Education.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

For more information please contact LearnFree Consultants at info@learnfree.ca