Dozens of private high schools in Ontario are possibly handing out fraudulent graduation diplomas to students, awarding higher grades than earned or giving credit for courses not attended, says the provincial auditor.
In fiscal 2011/2012, 30 private schools requested and received 1,500 more diplomas than the number of Grade 12 students enrolled in their programs, says Auditor-General Bonnie Lysyk in her annual report, released on Tuesday.
The Ministry of Education handed out the blank diplomas without verifying the number of students enrolled in schools' graduating classes, says the report, which highlights a lack of oversight of the 1,000 elementary and secondary private schools registered in Ontario.
Private schools are supposed to provide the ministry with the credits taken and grades achieved for each student enrolled in Grade 12. However, the auditor says, "the ministry is having significant difficulty in obtaining all the required information from all private schools in a timely manner."
The ministry has a rigorous verification process in place for public schools, the auditor says. It hands out diplomas, signed by the Education Minister, only after ensuring that a student has successfully completed all courses necessary for graduation. In the private sector, by contrast, the ministry is relying on the "good faith" of school administrators, the auditor says.
The ministry has provided private schools with extra diplomas, signed by the minister, "resulting in a risk of diploma fraud," the auditor says.
In response to the auditor's findings, the ministry will now reject orders for diplomas from private schools that exceed more than 5 per cent of Grade 12 enrolment. It will also require schools to submit data on the number of students pursuing a diploma.
"We're confident that these measures will further strengthen the integrity of credits and diplomas granted in our private schools," Education Minister Liz Sandals said in a statement.
As of this June, the ministry had not received information from one quarter of private schools for the 2011/12 academic year.
The auditor found significant concerns at 100 schools, raising questions about whether the students actually earned the credits towards their Grade 12 graduation diploma.
The ministry inspects the standard of instruction at the 408 private schools that offer credits toward a high school diploma. It conducts an inspection of each school every two years and has identified significant concerns identified in 25 per cent of these schools that offer the Grade 12 diploma.
In private schools that do not offer Grade 12 diplomas, the ministry does not approve or evaluate any aspect of the curriculum, the auditor says. Private schools are not required to follow the Ontario curriculum unless they offer the Ontario secondary school diploma.
Apart from a brief visit by a government official to validate newly registered schools, the ministry does not evaluate the curriculum, check for health and safety issues or conduct criminal background checks on teachers and staff, the auditor says.
Despite the lack of oversight, the auditor found several schools advertising that their programs had in fact been accredited by the ministry.
Academic results at private schools range from well below average to excellent, the auditor says. Students in public schools performed on average significantly better on standardized tests than those in private schools.
About 110,000 students are enrolled in private schools in Ontario.