An independent school is independent in its finances and governance. It is usually not dependent upon national or local government to finance its financial endowment. It is typically governed by a board of governors which is elected independently of government, and has a system of governance that ensures its independent operation.
The terms independent school and private school are often synonymous in popular usage outside the United Kingdom. Independent schools may have a religious affiliation, but the precise usage of the term excludes parochial (and other) schools if there is a financial dependence upon, or governance subordinate to, outside organizations. These definitions generally apply equally to both primary and secondary education.
In Australia, independent schools, sometimes referred to as private schools, are a sub-set of non-government schools that, for administration purposes, are not operated by a government authority and have a system of governance that ensures its independent operation. Such schools are typically operated by an independently elected school council or board of governors and range broadly in the type of school-education provided and the socio-economics of the school community served. Some independent schools are run by religious institutes; others have no religious affiliation and are driven by a national philosophy (such as international schools), pedogogical philosophy (such as Waldorf-Steiner schools), or specific needs (such as special schools). As of 2018, including independent schools run by Catholic religious institutes, of the 9,477 schools in Australia 1,140 schools (12 percent) are in the independent sector. In the same year, independent schools enrolled over 617,000 students, or 16 percent of the Australian student population.
Independent schools in Australia make up nearly 16% of total enrolments, while Catholic schools, which usually have lower fees, also make up a sizeable proportion (19%) and are usually regarded as a school sector of their own within the broad category of independent schools. Enrolments in non-government schools have been growing steadily at the expense of enrolments in government schools, which have seen their enrolment share reduce from 78.1 percent to 65 percent since 1970.
Australian independent schools differ from those in the United States as the Australian Government provides funding to all schools including independent schools using a 'needs-based' funding model. This model was based on a Socio-Economic Status (SES) score, derived by selecting a sample of parents' addresses and mapping these to various household income and education data points collected from the national census conducted every five years. In 2013, after release of the (first) Gonski Report, the funding formula was changed to compute individual school funding compared to a School Resourcing Standard (SRS). The SRS uses exam results from the National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) tests, calculates the SRS from a cohort of well-performing schools, and applies this formula to other schools on the assumption that they should be able to achieve similar results from similar funding. The funding provided to independent schools is on a sliding scale and still has a "capacity to pay" element; however, on average, funding granted to the independent school sector is 40 percent of that required to operate government schools, the remainder being made up by tuition fees and donations from parents. The majority of the funding comes from the Commonwealth Government, while the state and territory governments provide about one-third of the Commonwealth amount. The Turnbull Government commissioned Gonski in 2017 to chair the independent Review to Achieve Educational Excellence in Australian Schools, commonly called Gonski 2.0. The government published the report on 30 April 2018. Following negotiation, bilateral agreements between the Commonwealth of Australia with each state and territory commenced on 1 January 2019, with the exception of Victoria, whose bilateral agreement commenced on 1 February 2019. The funding agreements provide states with funding for government schools (20 percent) and non-government schools (80 percent) taking into consideration annual changes in enrolment numbers, indexation and student or school characteristics. A National School Resourcing Board was charged with the responsibility of independently reviewing each state's compliance with the funding agreement(s).
Independent school fees can vary from under $100 per month to $2,000 and upwards, depending on the student's year level, the school's size, and the socioeconomics of the school community. In late 2018 it was reported that the most expensive independent schools (such as the APS Schools, the AGSV Schools in Melbourne, the GPS Schools, QGSSSA Schools in Brisbane and the NSW GPS Schools, Combined Associated Schools and the ISA Schools in Sydney and New South Wales) charge fees of up to $500,000 for the thirteen years of an independent school education.
In Canada, independent school refers to elementary and secondary schools that follow provincial educational requirements but are not managed by the provincial ministry; the term independent is usually used to describe not-for-profit schools. In some provinces, independent schools are regulated by the Independent School Act and must offer a curriculum prescribed by the provincial government. Ontario has the most independent schools in Canada. These include Ridley College, Havergal College, Crescent School, St. Andrew's College, Columbia International College, The York School and Ashbury College. Examples of independent schools in British Columbia are Brentwood College School, Shawnigan Lake School, St. Margaret's School, and St. Michael's University School.
Many independent schools in Canada meet National Standards and are accredited by a national not-for-profit organization called Canadian Accredited Independent Schools (CAIS).
Independent schools in British Columbia are partially financed by municipal governments by Statutory and Permissive tax exemptions. The objective of the legislation appears to be to level the playing field between the private and public sector schools. These tax exemptions over a period of time result in considerable investment by municipal governments in the private school sector, yet legally they have no stake in the properties, as they remain in private hands. Depending on the financial structure of the school, parents may have a financial stake while their offspring are enrolled, but the investment is not continuous, and the enrollment deposit, which finances the school's capital expenditures, is returned upon leaving the school. The returned deposit is paid from the subsequent new enrollment, and it follows that no parent makes a long term investment in the school. The municipal governments appear on balance to be the only long term investors, through the statutory and permissive tax exemptions, with no right to recapture these costs if the school is dissolved or any part of the assets is disposed of.
Robert Land Academy in Wellandport, Ontario is Canada's only independent military style school for boys in grades 6 through 12.
In the United Kingdom, independent education (or private education) has grown continually for the past twenty years.
England and Wales
In England and Wales, the more prestigious independent schools are known as "public schools", sometimes subdivided into major and minor public schools. A common definition of a public school relates to membership of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference, and this includes many independent grammar schools). The term "public school" originally meant that the school was open to the public (as opposed to private tutors).
In Scotland, schools not state-funded are known as independent or private schools. Independent schools may also be specialist or special schools – such as some music schools, Steiner Waldorf Education schools, or special education schools.
Scottish independent schools currently educate over 31,000 students and employ approximately 3,500 teachers. Schools are represented by the Scottish Council of Independent Schools (SCIS). All schools are still inspected by the state inspectorate, Education Scotland, and the Care Inspectorate. Independent schools in Scotland that are charities are subject to a specific test from the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator, designed to demonstrate the public benefit the schools provide.
Independent schools in the United States educate a tiny fraction of the school-age population (slightly over 1% of the entire school-age population, around 10% of students who go to private schools). The essential distinction between independent schools and other private schools is self-governance and financial independence, i.e., independent schools own, govern, and finance themselves. In contrast, public schools are funded and governed by local and state governments, and most parochial schools are owned, governed, and financed by religious institutions such as a diocese or parish. Independent schools may be affiliated with a particular religion or denomination; however, unlike parochial schools, independent schools are self-owned and governed by independent boards of trustees. While independent schools are not subject to significant government oversight or regulation, they are accredited by the same six regional accreditation agencies that accredit public schools. The National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) is a membership organization of American pre-college independent schools.
Independent schools are 501(c)3 nonprofit corporate entities, independent in governance and finance, meaning:
- Independent schools "own themselves" (as opposed to public schools owned by the government or parochial schools owned by the church) and govern themselves, typically with a self-perpetuating board of trustees that performs fiduciary duties of oversight and strategic duties of funding and setting the direction and vision of the enterprise, and by delegating day to day operations entirely to the head of school.
- Independent schools finance themselves (as opposed to public schools funded through the government and parochial schools subsidized by the church), largely through charging tuition, fund raising, and income from endowment.
Independence is the unique characteristic of this segment of the education industry, offering schools four freedoms that contribute to their success: the freedom to define their own unique missions; the freedom to admit and keep only those students well-matched to the mission; the freedom to define the qualifications for high quality teachers; and the freedom to determine on their own what to teach and how to assess student achievement and progress.
In the United States, there are more independent colleges and universities than public universities, although public universities enroll more total students. The membership organization for independent tertiary education institutions is the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities.
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