Maybe you went to a private school yourself, and want the same experience for your child, but your publicly-educated partner is skeptical. Perhaps you’ve had your child in the public system, but have a feeling they might be better suited to an environment that’s tailored to their specific personality and potential. Whatever it is that has brought you to considering a private school for your child, it’s a big decision—and it can be an overwhelming one too, with so many factors to consider.
That’s why we’ve chatted with the experts— representatives from Toronto’s best private schools, who get these kinds of questions every day from prospective parents—for a look at the smartest way to approach the question: How do I decide whether a private school is the best choice for my family?
Start with your child, suggests Michelle Gow, admissions director at Hudson College. If they’re what she terms “bored, overlooked or unhappy,” in their current school, a private school may offer them the kind of environment that will suit them better—whether that’s more challenging work, extracurriculars that engage them, or a teaching team that has more bandwidth to nurture them thanks to smaller class sizes. “Toronto has a huge range of private options,” she says, “and you can find a place where your child will enjoy learning every day. Ask what kind of environment and curriculum will bring out the best in your child.”
That, of course, means it’s time to do your research. Draw up a list of criteria to help you narrow things down, like: How much can you afford to spend each school year? How far away from home are you willing to commute? Are there any specializations—Montessori, a STEM-focus, single gender, specific sports teams or clubs even—that you want to explore further? If you can, involve your child in this process, especially if they’re older. If they feel like they’ve been involved, it will help them ease the transition when the time comes to enrol in their new school.
While you can compile a shortlist purely through internet research, the next step will require some legwork, if not virtual. Look for open houses, or schedule some time with potential private schools, and use your time with their admissions staff to dig into two areas: Their style of teaching and the overall school experience. Do they have specialized teachers in subjects like art, science or coding? How do they challenge high-achieving students, or support those with different learning needs? What do they do outside the classroom to nurture students?
The academics matter. Your child will almost certainly have to sit an assessment test as part of the admissions process, by the way, but administrators urge parents to think about the transition from public to private as about more than just curriculum differences. “This is a critical time for your child’s personal development,” says Tracy Grisdale, principal at Central Montessori, where there’s a strong focus on “soft skills” like time management, leadership, and resiliency. Academic rigor is one factor, but the whole school experience—often billed as more “family-like” than public schools, with more resources to devote to each individual child— is a major selling point of the private sector.
And finally: Unlike the public system, private schools have admission deadlines—so make sure you’re starting this process with plenty of time to spare.