As the B.C. Teachers’ Federation and provincial government head into contract negotiations so close to the new school year, many parents are rightly worried about the possibility of disruptions to their children’s education. But one cohort of parents has nothing to fear: Teachers.
School teachers and education counsellors are nearly four times more likely than other British Columbians to send their own kids to an independent, non-government school.
This is not the only surprising thing about who chooses B.C. independent schools and why. Cardus’ new study, by that name, is the first in a generation to explore the issue in depth within a B.C. context.
The findings challenge a number of prevailing myths.
Let’s start with perhaps the most widely circulated one: Are “private” schools bastions of privileged posterity? The survey findings, representing 1,025 parents from 19 representative B.C. independent schools, highlighted four surprising facts about this.
First, the parents mostly went to a public school themselves. Fully 84 per cent of them spent some time in public elementary or high school, with 65 per cent only attending public school growing up. In other words, independent schoolers are overwhelming “first generation.”
Second, many first sent their kids to public school. For every family that switches from one independent school to another, three come from public school.
Third, most find it hard to pay the tuition. Over 50 per cent of independent school parents have made major financial sacrifices or life changes, such as getting a part-time job, to afford school costs.
Last, the schools are not exclusive. Despite the fact most B.C. independent schools have wait lists (as demand exceeds supply), two-thirds of families found it easy to get in to their preferred independent school, with less than 16 per cent expressing difficulty. Even religious schools are not exclusive and welcome many non-religious students.
Independent schools are also more inclusive in terms of cultural, linguistic and ethnic diversity. Independent school parents are far more likely than public school parents to be born outside Canada, speak a foreign language at home and be a visible minority.
Moreover, it is not the wealthy but the better-educated and more civic-minded who choose independent schools. They are not only 1.4 times more likely to have post-secondary education, but 92 per cent of independent school parents are active in the community compared to 73 per cent of British Columbians. In terms of voting, 61 per cent of independent school parents participate regularly in municipal, provincial and federal elections compared to 36 per cent of British Columbians.
So why do parents choose independent schools, if not for the privilege and social connections?
The reasons are more numerous and diverse than the people themselves. But the top three reasons are shared by nearly every independent school parent. They choose independent schools because they offer a truly supportive and nurturing environment for students, are safe, and emphasize character development.
Presumably, teachers know this, which is why they are so much more likely to send their own kids to independent schools.
This is not a bad thing.
Every independent school student frees up a seat at their nearest public school and saves B.C. taxpayers 57 cents on the dollar in reduced operating expenses.
Even more importantly, independent schools provide parents and students with options that a single, government-run school monopoly cannot provide. They don’t just meet demand. Independent schools meet critical — otherwise unmet — needs, which is why B.C. independent school enrolment has steadily increased every single year for over four decades — a trend line that will only steepen if teachers strike in September.
David Hunt is a B.C.-based researcher and public policy analyst; Deani Van Pelt is a senior fellow at Cardus, a public-policy think tank.