There are many reasons why you should invest in an independent school education for your child. Some of these may apply more to some parents than others, but from my experience as an independent school teacher (at St. George’s) and later principal (St. John’s), many are shared by most if not all parents. The four most important, and the reasons I chose independent schools for my own children (Crofton House and St. George’s), are:
Academic quality has to be the top priority for any parent seeking a good school for their child. After all, your child is going there to learn. Two of the most important determinants of successful learning are small class size and excellent teachers. Independent schools all have considerably smaller classes than their public counterparts (15-20 is the norm at the lower grades, and smaller still at the higher grades). The lower student to teacher ratio allows for more individual attention and a much more personal relationship between teacher and student. When you add excellent teachers to the mix, the result is a powerful nurturing ground for academic success. While some public school teachers hold an advanced degree (such as MA in addition to their BEd), many teachers in the independent sector have MAs and some even PhDs. The other major difference between the public and independent school sectors is that the goal of the latter is specifically to prepare all students for university, not just some of the brighter ones. Their commitment to this is indicated by the size of their university counseling departments. Schools like Crofton House and St. George’s even have specialist counselors for US and overseas university applications. The majority of university-bound graduates from local public schools head for local BC universities whereas more than half of the graduates of the major independent schools find university places outside of BC and many of the brightest win places to the Ivies, Stanford, and MIT, and more recently to UK universities
All parents worry about the health and safety of their children. How can they be protected from bullying, harmful influences, negative peer pressure, and poor choices? As parents we know we cannot choose our children’s friends (though many of us would like to) and we worry about them making good choices. What distinguishes most independent schools from the public ones is their strong sense of community and the influence of positive peer pressure. It is cool at these schools to try one’s best and good students aren’t labelled “nerds.” The pool of students from which your children will make friends here are the kind of role models you would likely choose yourself. And these will be friends for life. Ten years after graduating some of my daughter’s school friends attended her overseas wedding.
One of the things that helps to create this safe environment is the attention independent schools give to fostering a sense of individual responsibility and social and environmental awareness. Volunteerism is especially strong in the independent schools and all are part of the Duke of Edinburgh Youth Awards Scheme and some are members Round Square.
Independent schools not only value parental involvement in school affairs, they demand it. When a student is admitted to an independent school the whole family is admitted to the school community. Parents do much more at these schools than their public school counterparts in PACs. Not only do they help with the usual volunteering and fundraising activities, but as members of the school’s board of governors they can directly influence the governance of the school, its policies, future plans, and activities.
Providing a safe environment for your child must be accompanied by an educational philosophy with which you agree. The goal of the typical independent school is to produce well-roundedness by educating the whole child. This means offering a wide range of athletic, artistic, and cultural extracurricular activities, outdoor education programs, and opportunities to develop leadership skills all in addition to a rigorous academic program. The emphasis on physical fitness, sports, and involvement in the arts helps to develop character and the core values that will shape your child’s future. While public school teachers are no longer required to participate in extra-curricular activity it is part of the independent school teachers’ contracts to undertake such commitments. Moreover, participation by students is also mandatory not optional. It would be difficult to list all the opportunities for personal enrichment that are available in the independent sector; and new activities are added all the time if there is sufficient student interest. St George’s started rowing, Ultimate, and crown bowling on this basis; Crofton House too started a rowing program and a number of graduate rowers have gone on to win NCAA scholarships at top US universities including my daughter (to Duke).
Finally no school can offer the kind of opportunities that the independent schools do without having outstanding resources at their disposal. A glance through the schools’ websites will show the state-of-the-art facilities in technology, arts, and sports that enable them to offer specialist programming of unparalleled quality. And new facilities are constantly being added as all independent school are expanding to meet continuing growth in demand for places.
In the current economic climate there is no such thing as a sure investment. Investing in your child’s education, however, will pay handsome dividends for many years to come!
David Darling, MA (Oxford)