Hit­ting the switch

There are no rules for when to go to pri­vate, some­times you just have to go with your gut

The Kids Post - - Education Feature - by David Pater­son

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?

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