Hitting the switch
There are no rules for when to go to private, sometimes you just have to go with your gut
For all the things that private education may be, enriching, student focused, academically rigorous, there is one that it is not: cheap. Counting fees and expenses, like books, uniforms and trips, it’s not uncommon for parents to invest upwards of $20,000 a year in their child’s education.
Putting children through private education is an expense that entails significant sacrifices for all but the most wealthy families. So one of the common dilemmas parents face is whether to suck up the costs of going private for the whole of their child’s education or save money by waiting until secondary school to switch.
Distinctions are sometimes made between private schools that primarily emphasize their religious character and those that market their academic results. For parents who are interested in a school mainly because of its religious or philosophical outlook, getting their child in during the early years, when social skills and moral outlooks start to develop, is likely to be of importance.
But for those who are drawn to the private sector for academic success, timing is more complex. Such parents face tough choices filled with unquantifiable benefits and unknowable outcomes. You will, after all, never know whether your child would have fared better or worse in life if you’d put her or him in another school at a particular time.
Though private institutions are overrepresented in the upper echelons of the Fraser Institute’s influential annual school rankings, they don’t have a monopoly on academic excellence. Janette Pelletier, a professor at University of Toronto’s Institute of Child Study, says a predictor of academic success is how well schools get parents on board with educating their kids, and good parent-teacher relationships are by no means exclusive to the private sector. There are many public schools that do an excellent job at that and have fine academic records as a result.
It follows, then, that a kid who is doing well in a high-performing public school may have less to gain academically from an early switch to the private sector than one whose public board options are less desirable.
The good news for those considering the private system is that few parents regret it once they have made the switch. Deani Van Pelt, director of the Fraser Institute’s Barbara Mitchell Centre for Improvement in Education, says the majority of parents report being satisfied with their choice of school and value the attention their child receives. She also points to a recent study she conducted with researchers from Hamilton, Ont., and the University of Notre Dame [Cardus Education Survey] that found private schools produce adults who, by some measures, are more active and informed citizens. After taking into account a host of socioeconomic factors, Van Pelt says graduates of private schools still had “higher educational attainment, higher civic engagement and higher cultural engagement in adult life” than their publicly educated counterparts.
There is, however, little research indicating whether such benefits can still be attained by going private in the final years or whether a longerterm approach is necessary. So parents have to rely on anecdotal evidence and their own judgment.
Marsha Hamilton is the principal at St. Clement’s Early Learning School, which educates students up to the age of eight, preparing them to enter the public and private systems. At St. Clement’s, one-onone time between students and teachers is assured and, according to Hamilton, parents who later opt for the public system sometimes worry that their child’s progress is slowing.
“They find they are paying for tutoring to keep up with the academic demands in case they want to go into the private system again,” she says.
Admissions offices highlight Grade 7 as a good entry point to the private system. It’s a natural break in education, when many kids move schools, so your child won’t be the only one trying to make friends and find the cafeteria.
Jennifer White, VP of marketing at Blyth Academy, believes the most popular point for students to join Blyth is actually in Grade 11.
“We get a lot of students who have had a bad run in Grade 10, and their parents are keen to get them to the level needed for university,” says White. The school even takes students halfway through Grade 12.
Regardless of when parents choose to make the move, private schools generally have wellrehearsed plans for transitioning students. In some schools, parent leaders are even assigned to welcome new families and help deal with questions or concerns.
So at least you know that, whenever you decide to make the switch to private schooling, you’ll likely receive a warm welcome.
From public to private, how do you know when to make the leap?