British Columbia Branch


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So You're Looking for a School? The Professor Says...

Our public elementary schools in B.C. serve pupils from Kindergarten to Grade 7 (ages 5-12), with Kindergarten being a half day. Most are neighbourhood schools within walking distance of home but busing is provided outside the City of Vancouver. Some preschools start at age four, but they are predominantly private. In Canada, "primary" means Grades K-3. There are middle schools that span Grades 6-9 (ages 11-14). Secondary or high schools have Grades 8-12 (ages 13-17). All secondary schools use the B.C. curriculum but some emphasize university entrance while other focus more on vocational education. Many elementary and secondary schools offer special emphases such as fine arts, French immersion, traditional teaching methods, or specialized programs.

School districts (analogous to LEAs in Britain) consist of groups of schools coinciding roughly with municipalities. They are publicly funded, hire principals (headmasters or headmistresses) and teachers, and have elected school boards with superintendents. Individual public schools do not have boards but they have school planning councils that are advisory. The schools vary in outcomes, student characteristics, and pedagogy although they are funded at about the same amount per pupil each year.

The provincial examination results for Grades 4, 7, 10 and 12 for all schools are presented by the Fraser Institute in its website. Those figures give only a sense of the academic emphasis in each school and convey little more about it. In general, schools on the west side of the Vancouver proper perform better than those on the east side, perhaps a reflection of socioeconomic advantage. Some suburban schools do well and others do not so well, partly because of their high English-as-a-Second Language (ESL) populations. Schools also differ according to the levels of satisfaction expressed by their parents. That information is available on the Ministry of Education website.

There is a considerable difference between the independent schools, which are generally quite structured in their approach to teaching and learning, and the public schools, which often incorporate divergent philosophies within the same school. The word "independent" refers to all nonpublic schools in B.C. Most have uniforms. They are classified into university prep (high fees, academic emphasis), Roman Catholic (low fees), Evangelical Christian (low fees), and others. About 10% of all pupils in B.C. attend independent schools. Most of those schools receive partial public funding and serve students of diverse backgrounds.

When choosing a school for your children, it is important to remember that their success will be dependent upon many things--their individual teachers, their friendships, their strengths and preferences, and your willingness to assist them with their education. You are encouraged to make appointments and visit prospective schools. Educators will be pleased to give you a description, provide a tour, and answer your questions. What you hear and observe will give you some indication of what the schools are like and if your children would be happy there. Parents whose children currently attend are another fine source of information. You are asked to register your children during the previous school year when you want them to start in their new school in September. Recent legislation give you the right for your children to attend any school subject to capacity and governmental guidelines.

Urban and suburban areas of B.C., such as Greater Vancouver, offer considerable choice of schools and programs for parents and students. They are staffed by typically dedicated teachers and principals who work hard to provide the best possible education for children. The more you know about your prospective schools, the more secure your selection will be. Schools and districts usually have websites that will provide initial information for you.

Provided by Dan Brown, Professor of Education, UBC.