Private School vs. Public School Debate in Ontario

June 19, 2019


It is a debate, I am sure most parents go through while raising their kids and it is not at the time when the child is going to the school for the first time; even throughout the schooling of their kids they wonder which option is better suited for their kids.

The challenge even higher for immigrant parents who have not gone through this school system themselves. Especially if you are coming from a country that may have multi-tier education system like U.K. or India. This is even more confusing when in your home country most of the middle or upper middle class was going to a private school. Although there is unlimited information available on the internet; it is difficult to navigate through the information and use it effectively for decision making. You can’t be sure of the reputation of the private school especially when compared to the public school. As an example, when I was growing up, I knew the reputation and performance of the schools in my area and that was based on generations of firsthand information. I knew the type of crowd that went to those schools, I knew how those students did professionally. For example how many became doctors, engineers or top civil servants. I knew if the standard of the school is going up or down. It is difficult to get this information easily from the internet when most businesses can hire companies to provide favorable reviews, likes, followers and much more.

What we are trying to accomplish in this article is to provide you with some facts and context about the two systems. We try to provide you with some targeted and trusted resources to do your research. Our aim is not to prove that one system is better than other, but to help you make an informed decision.

Let’s first quickly look at the spectrum of the private schools in Ontario. I would broadly divide these into three categories. I will term the first category broadly as the boarding schools. This includes schools like Upper Canada, Appleby, and Havergal. These are considered premier private schools with large facilities and have a long history. Most of these are on the pattern of the famous boarding schools of U.K, like Eton’s College, and still have affiliation to those schools and system. For example having a cricket league, which you will not find in typical public school. In this case the fee is typically on the higher side and is in the range of $40-60K.

Second category is the schools that have fee structure in the middle range, lower than the boarding schools however higher than many neighborhood Montessori schools. There are number of schools for example Mentor College, Glen…The fee in these schools typically ranges from $10K to $20k. These schools do not match or have the infrastructure of the prestigious boarding schools or public schools. As you can imagine with the limited resources there is challenge in attracting experienced, talented teachers who will be paid off better in the public sector system, especially with the benefits and pension offered at the public sector. However, these schools may offer lower class size and a bit more personalized service and flexibility.

In addition there are number of private schools that have lower fee structure, like Montessori schools. Given the limited resources, these schools have limited infrastructure and are further challenged in attracting teachers. These schools can be more creative in their approaches and be ready to bend; may offer more flexibility and personalized solution to some parents and children.

There are also many religious based private schools but I will not be discussing those.

Private schools may or may not follow the Ontario curriculum; many of these schools follow curriculum set by other bodies. There is more information available on the private schools, their ratings and governing bodies on Our Kids.

Now let’s quickly discuss about the public schools. In Ontario, there are number of different boards for example the Toronto District School Board, Peel District School board and also Catholic School boards. In addition, depending upon your area of residence, there may be French focused boards too for both Public and Catholic. The quality of the schools differ depending upon number of factors including the resources that a school board may have, the location, demographics of the students etc. There are some organizations that have tried to rate various public schools. This includes the Fraser Institute . In addition, the EQAO results and the accompanying data on each school can also give you some valuable information about the public vis. a vis. other public schools. In terms of resources, the public schools have an advantage whether it is the physical infrastructure or ability to attract and pay the teachers. You may think that even if there is a fully equipped gym and qualified instructors, what about the peers. There may not be engaged peers, especially if your area is not something like forest hill of Toronto. This is, probably, a valid concern and the reason to buy or live in the neighborhood that you feel is the demographics you would like to be associated with. This is the reason why prices of some areas keep going up, for example for a long time Vista Heights public school in Mississauga has the reputation and ranking to attract parents to that area.

In addition, the public schools have number of specialized programs. One of these program is the “academically gifted program”. The students in most public school districts are tested in Grade 4 to be identified as “academically gifted”. These students typically are working at higher levels then their peer group. As a result, there are risks that these children are not learning as much and can potentially lose interest if not challenged enough. Typically, the identification process includes number of tests and the teacher’s recommendation. How many students a board identify as gifted is also limited by the resources available to the board. Typically, it is less than top 1 percentile of the students who make it to the program. There are different ways various boards work with the gifted students. You may find more information by visiting your respective school board website or speaking with the board officials. There is also a non-profit organization in Ontario, called the Association of Bright Students (ABC). it is a very helpful association and it provides some key resources to parents for teachers dealing with the gifted students.

One of the key objectives of any high school is to prepare the students to go to university. Some parents would argue to say that not only university but to Ivy League universities like Harvard, Yale. Or within Canada UFT, Queens etc. You can ask the school to see how many students from their last graduating class made it to top ranking universities and in which stream. I find that most of the private schools use this information to boast their institute; however, many of the public schools feed more students, to these high ranking universities, do not provide this information unless asked for.

In the end, I would say neither private schools nor public school system is panacea for your child’s growth and learning. There are number of factors that contribute and support your child’s growth and learning, including you, the parents, the school system, the supplementary education support, peers, and, most importantly, the student.


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