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Rachel Thexton, a Vancouver public relations consultant. (Courtesy Rachel Thexton)
Rachel Thexton, a Vancouver public relations consultant. (Courtesy Rachel Thexton)

Private Schools

When is the best time to enroll in private school? Add to ...

When Rachel Thexton started Grade 10 at the Country Day School in King City, Ont., she wondered whether it was a good age to leave the public school system for a private school.

It turned out well for her, says Ms. Thexton, now a Vancouver public relations consultant.

“A lot of friends had started earlier, and I'd had a good experience in public school. But at Grade 10 you can be going down a rough road, and at my new school I got some extra support I needed.”

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Ms. Thexton faced a question that often challenges parents and students: Is there a best age to consider private school?

“In my opinion I don't think there is a set age,” says Hal Hannaford, headmaster of Selwyn House School in Montreal.

The most typical points when considering enrolment in private schools are at traditional thresholds – kindergarten or junior kindergarten, entry into middle school (Grade 7) and high school (Grade 9 or 10). But there are other entry points. Toronto French School, for example, accepts children for its preschool program as young as 2. And some schools, such as Montrcrest School, also in Toronto, go only to the end of Grade 8, so students have no choice but to start high school elsewhere.

Here are a few factors to consider:

Early years

Starting from the beginning allows your child to to enter a school and stay there to the end of high school. “Ideally you want a certain continuity,” says Selwyn House's Mr. Hannaford. “You don't want your kids jumping all over the place if they don't have to.”

Starting early is also a factor if the school you're considering has any kind of specialty – for example, faith-based education, or schools that stress athletics or music.

Strathcona-Tweedsmuir School in Okotoks, Alta., near Calgary, has a well-known outdoor education program that begins in Grade 1, as well as a humanitarian outreach program that starts in early years with basic concepts and skills. Toronto French School offers its program for two-year-olds because of its focus on bilingual education – learning languages tends to be easier when you're young.

Some parents feel pressure to put their children on waiting lists as soon as they're born, or even before. Experts say it's best to focus on the child, not the list.

Middle years

Anyone who has faced a surly preteen across the breakfast table knows the deal – these years can be tough. All kinds of new pressures come into play – growth spurts, figuring out peer and romantic relationships, higher-level team sports, and extracurricular interests. Adolescence can make middle school an ideal entry point, says Brian Storosko, head of the Junior School at Ottawa's Ashbury College.

“We like to get them in before Grade 7, before that adolescent change,” he says. After 13, kids become more independent and questioning – which is natural, but can also make it difficult for them to adjust to a school change if it comes later.

Grade 7 is also a good entry point because in many school systems, both public and private, children have to change schools anyway. Another consideration is that Grade 7 tends to be one of the harder grades in terms of academics – there's simply a lot to learn. At this point students can take advantage of all the learning aids available at their private school, when they may be needed most.

Upper years

For students specializing in sports, the arts or high-level language studies, the facilities, class sizes, extracurricular activities and individual attention found in private schools can be a boon.

Ms. Thexton also appreciates the advice she received about postsecondary options. “I had no idea about U.S. schools, writing the SATs or the application process. My guidance counsellors worked with me and made sure I had all my bases covered,” she says.

Another key consideration, of course, is the cost of private schools. At many schools, bursaries and scholarships are most readily available for students in advanced years.

THE ARGUMENTS FOR:

- Continuity, stability

- Special programs (languages, faith-based, sports, arts)

- Siblings and friends may already be in the same school

Middle years:

- Support for dealing with adolescent pressures

- Extra support for schoolwork as it gets harder in these grades

Upper years:

- Cost (families may need to focus on particular grades because of budget)

- Financial support (more scholarships and bursaries are available)

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