What is an independent school?

Independent schools are elementary and secondary schools that have a distinct educational mission and are independently governed by an elected Board of Directors. While many follow provincial curriculum, schools can also offer the International Baccalaureate (IB), Advanced Placement (AP) or Montessori, for example.  Canadian Accredited Independent Schools (CAIS) schools have also met the rigorous standards set out by the CAIS accreditation process and have earned their seal of excellence. Independent schools do not receive taxpayers’ dollars and therefore rely on tuition, charitable donations and endowment revenue.

Sometimes there is confusion between private schools and independent schools.  Private schools are also independent as they are not part of the public system, but unlike independent schools, private schools operate on a for profit basis.

Independent schools enhance provincial standards by providing a vast range of opportunities and activities linked to the curriculum. They add meaning and depth to curriculum by providing real life opportunities for students to experience what they are learning.  Many independent schools offer a boarding option.

As Chantal Gionet, Assistant Head of School, Academics for Pickering College, says, “Curriculum isn’t just what you learn in class, it’s every experience you have on campus. That’s why our students spend a lot of time out in the field and are often responsible for organizing events themselves. For example, at Pickering College students participate in a 48 hour dog sledding tour where they are responsible for organizing meals. We also offer chances for our students to contribute to social justice locally and globally through initiatives such as a Me to We trip to Kenya. The accessibility of these hands-on opportunities is part of what sets independent schools apart.”

Teacher credentials are another aspect that enhances independent schools. Independent schools demand the best and their faculty are a diverse group of highly educated and experienced educators whose qualifications can range from expertise in industry to PhDs.

CAIS points out independent schools also have the option of selecting students who will best coalesce with the school’s environment and community. In developing a student body that is consistent with the school’s mission, they ensure that the environment will be conducive to the type of learning and growth that best supports their students. Ideally, the fit between the student and the school will ensure the full potential of the student is realized.

At Pickering College, we currently have students representing 20 different countries, adding a global perspective to our classrooms. Another component that sets us apart is the strong focus on values. At Pickering College these values include community, compassion, integrity, respect and responsibility.

“We explicitly teach students about values and how they can be leaders in demonstrating those values,” says Headmaster Peter Sturrup. “With those values as their guide, our students are learning that they have the ability, and the responsibility, to make a positive change in the world.”