Academic program and curriculum
Does the school follow the curriculum outlined by the Ministry of Education? Is it accredited by the Canadian Educational Standards Institute (cesi.edu) or another third party organization, such as the Association Montessori Internationale (montessori-ami.org) or the International Baccalaureate Organization (ibo.org)? Is it a member of a school affiliation such as the Centre for Enhancement of Jewish Education — The Mercaz (mercaztoronto.org), the Conference of Independent Schools in Ontario (cisontario.ca) or the Canadian Association of Independent Schools (cais.ca)?
What is the school’s admission process? Common practices include: reviewing report cards and assessment documents; an in-school interview with student and parents; speaking with the current school; an in-class visit; an entrance assessment or exam; and the Secondary School Admissions Test for students entering grade seven or above.
How does the program, method and faculty motivate students?
Is there good communication between teacher and parents?
Does the teacher provide for differentiated learning within the classroom? What happens if a child needs enrichment or extra support?
Where do the graduates go on to school? How do the programs prepare students for success in university and beyond?
What is the school’s philosophy, vision and mission? How is it unique?
Does the school have defined ideals — are these enlivened in everything they do?
Is the school safe? Does it have a bullying policy?
What happens if there are behaviour issues in the classroom?
What beliefs and values does the school support, whether this be a specific religion (Christian, Islamic, Hinduism) or philosophy (Montessori, Waldorf)?
What is the turnover in teachers and staff? How long have the school’s administrators been at the school?
What are the qualifications and relevant experience of the teachers?
Does the school offer career advancement and professional development opportunities for all staff?
What is the maximum class size?
What is the student-to-teacher ratio?
Co-curricular and extra programs
Does the school have sports teams? Whom do they play against?
What other type of clubs, activities and extra-curricular programs does the school offer?
What facilities are offered? Is there a gymnasium, computer lab, playground, lunchroom, library, and music or art space?
Are there after-school programmes available?
Does the school offer a Parents’ Association and class parents?
Is transportation and/or a hot lunch included?
As important as asking the right questions, is how you feel when you visit the school. “Don’t ignore your gut. Trust the ‘smell test.’ Can you see your child here? Can you see the child you hope your child will become? Do the children in the school seem happy?” says Stephen Beatty, head of school at Montcrest School. “And don’t be afraid to ask to meet the principal, even just to say hi on a tour. Schools are said to be a reflection of the head.”
Dollars and sense
To establish your financial commitment you need to know:
1. What are the tuition fees?
2. Are there any additional costs?
3. How and when do the fees have to be paid?
4. Does the school offer scholarships, bursaries or financial aid? If so, what are the requirements?
5. Is there a sibling discount?
6. Are there charitable donation expectations?
Our expert panel
Stephen Beatty, headmaster, Montcrest School; montcrest.on.ca
Jeff Bavington, vice-principal & director, Hudson College; hudsoncollege.ca
Dalia Elsen, director, Crestwood School; crestwoodschool.com
Terry Gorrie, business administrator, Bannockburn School; bannockburn.ca
Ann Harvey, director of marketing and communications, Toronto Montessori Schools; torontomontessori.ca