Independent or Private; does the language help or confuse?

Independent or Private; does the language help or confuse?

November 9, 2017
By
Robin Hinnell

In British Columbia parents value a wide range of alternatives when choosing the education for their children; however, in conversation parents are often uncertain on the simple matter of vocabulary. Are these schools private or independent and what is implied by the vocabulary used?
 
The government of British Columbia makes it clear that in BC we use the word ‘independent’. A school in BC established as an alternative to the public school system is required to operate according to the Independent School Act and falls within the jurisdiction of the Office of the Inspector of Independent Schools. But is it “private”? No, but confusion exists; the confusion lies not in bureaucracy but in vocabulary used in conversation. To assist with this let us assume that a “private enterprise” usually implies an organisation that operates for profit; there are a few schools in BC that are privately owned but operate under the Independent School Act (these are known as “Group 4” schools).
 
In conversation, parents frequently assign the word ‘private’ to situations where they can exercise their right to choose, to elect to send their children to one of approximately 350 schools that operate outside the public school system. But there is nothing that is private about these schools. These schools operate as not-for-profit societies usually under the Society Act of BC. Governance is through a Board of Directors, leadership in education is through qualified and certified teachers and school administrators, educational programmes are guided by the Ministry of Education, and regulatory matters are clearly defined in the Independent School Act of BC. Independent schools are permitted and, in fact encouraged, to deliver the curriculum from their particular pedagogical, religious, or cultural perspectives.
 
The reality that parents are required to pay tuition fees for their children to attend an independent school does not make them ‘private’.
 
Thus we are considering a matter of vocabulary alongside school philosophies. An articulated philosophy of education does not imply that a school is ‘private’. Paying for this ‘service’ does not imply that the service is private; exercising the right to choose creates the sense of independence from Government; and the underlying purpose of independent schools is to ensure that there are educational opportunities for children in BC which are well suited to the philosophies, preferences and/or religious beliefs of families in BC.
 
One final observation: vocabulary is use across Canada
Ontario:   The Ministry of Education uses the phrase “private schools” when referring to alternatives to the public school system.
Quebec:   Vocabulary used is similar to BC.
Real Estate agents tend to use “private” when listing proximity of a home to local schools.
‘Private’ is the descriptor used for most privately owned international language schools and career colleges.
And to confuse matters even further, in the UK “public schools” are in fact equivalent to BC’s independent schools!