Everything you wanted to know about private school (but were afraid to ask)
Q: Honestly, how hard is it to get in?
A: “It really wasn’t too difficult for us—we were fortunate that the school had a few openings when our daughter was entering Grade 4. We were asked for her birth certificate, a copy of her immunization record, two years of report cards, a photograph of her and our credit card information to process the $100 non- refundable applicaton fee. Applicants in Grade 4 were invited to a morning class (students in older grades were asked to come in for an interview). She had to complete an assessment the morning she went to visit the classroom. This covered a range of subjects, including grade-appropriate math and English questions. It really wasn’t that difficult, according to her.”
Q: What should I do if I really love the school but I’m not sure if it’s a great fit for my kid?
A: “Choose another school. It may be hard. Maybe you have a connection or special tie to the school you have your heart set on. You won’t be doing your kid any favours if you try to force the fit. Go with the school that best suits the student, not just the family.”
Q: How much value should I place on a school’s standardized scores and number of university acceptances?
A: “Not much, I’d say. Of course it’s important, but there’s no such thing as the perfect school that fits every student where all kids gets into the universities they choose. You really have to decide which school you want to enroll your child in based on the one that best fits your family. You’re better off learning the philosophies of the institution and the kind of environment you’re getting into rather than test scores.”
Q: Is the private-school experience super swanky? Is it even more affluent than you thought?
A: “It’s about as I expected. You certainly notice the expensive cars in the parking lot. One of the biggest challenges was that all the kids had smartphones at a much younger age than I would have expected. That put pressure on us to get our son a phone. Still, he was probably one of the last ones in his class to grade to get one— we finally decided he could have one when he was 12 in Grade 6.”
Q: What are the biggest differences you’ve noticed between public school and private school?
A: “That’s an easy one. Smaller class sizes, for sure. My daughter’s class size in Grade 7 is 16 kids. It’s a much better student-to-teacher ratio than public school—my neighbour’s son is in Grade 6 and there are 23 kids in the classroom. That’s a huge difference. He has seven more students in his class—that means seven more kids who need attention, have questions, talk when the teacher is trying to instruct, etc. Smaller classrooms are less chaotic—fewer kids means fewer interruptions and more of the teachers’ time.”
Q: Will I need to buy my kids tablets or laptops?
A: “Yes, we did. Technology reigns supreme in school these days. Where in public schools there may be five or 10 tablets in a class of 20, every child in our son’s class had a device that could be used at school (either a laptop or tablet). We spoke with the school about how tablets are used and about the emphasis teachers put on technology. It’s prevalent now in pretty much every other facet of our lives, so it makes sense that technology is a big part of instruction and learning.”
Q: Can you buy used uniforms and textbooks to save money?
A: “At our school, yes. The parent association holds used uniform and texbook sales, which really helps families save.”
Q: What’s one thing you really value when it comes to having your kids in private school?
A: “We’re so glad we don’t have to worry about all the recent cuts to public-school funding! But other than that, one thing we really value is the philosophy of having a well-rounded student—marks aren’t the only things that matter, which many people don’t realize. For instance, each student is encouraged to try out for at least one of the school teams during the year. The percentage of students that participate in at least one school team, in my son’s grade, was about 75 percent last year.”
Q: Is there an absolute ton of homework?
A: “I did notice that my daughter had more homework than I did in the same grade. And by joining a school team, kids have at least three practices or games a week, adding to their after-school hours. In the last few months of Grade 8, my daughter had about two to three hours of work each night— she was spending a lot of time on her projects and is quite the perfectionists. All of her hard work paid off—she received the high-school entrance scholarship.”
Q: Are students supported or is it dog-eat-dog? I’ve heard about private-school bullying in the news. Is it rampant?
A: “That’s something you really need to speak to the administration about. Our school has a robust handbook that clearly explains the guidelines when it comes to student support, positive interactions, inclusivity and zero tolerance. Older students are used as role models for the younger ones, and there’s also peer mentorship, which can help. Also, really take a good look at the students and staff when you visit the school. Is there a respectful, encouraging, happy vibe? That will speak volumes.”
Q: Is there more expected of parents? I really don’t have time to join councils.
A: “No, there really isn’t that much of a difference between private and public when it comes to expectations of parents. We haven’t had to be too involved in our daughter’s school work— she does projects and assignments on her own. The school does encourage volunteering, but there isn’t strong pressure to do so. They have an active association that operates the school shop that sells uniforms and textbooks that returns profits to the school.”
Q: Is it worth it?
A: “I’d say yes. There are many things that we feel are worth the expense of private school. We appreciate the responsiveness of teachers to questions or concerns; I certainly like the weekly updates that we receive. There is greater use of technology (all students must have a tablet beginning in Grade 6) and encouragement to participate in extracurricular activities. I like that our school teaches from junior kindergarten all the way to Grade 12, so that the transition from lower school to prep school to high school is so much easier and the kids move up with the same group of students. Greater bonds and stronger networks can be established and I’m sure these connections will endure past their time at the school.”
Originally published in the 2019 Private School Guide.