According to a recent analysis of Ministry of Education enrolment data by the Fraser Institute, the share of students attending English public schools in Saskatchewan showed one of the greatest declines in Canada over a 15-year period.
Conversely, an increasing share of Saskatchewan students attended French public schools, Roman Catholic separate schools (a hot topic in the province), independent schools and homeschooling for their kindergarten-to-Grade-12 education.
Although the English public system remains the dominant choice, compared to 2000-01 a smaller share of students attended a public school in 2014-15 (the latest year of comparable data). At the end of the period analyzed, fewer than three of every four students were enrolled in the province’s English public system.
To be sure, Saskatchewan has fewer school-age students (a 9.3 per cent decline in five-to-17-year-olds in the province over the period) so we’d expect a corresponding decline in public school enrolments.
But it’s not just a declining number of students enrolled in public schools that stands out. It’s the change in the proportion of students in English public school – 77.5 per cent in 2000-01 compared to 73.3 per cent in 2014-15. Not only was this an 11.2 per cent decline in enrolments, but it was a noticeable decline in the share of students in the province attending English public schools – one of the largest such declines in the country.
So where did the students go?
Saskatchewan has three public school systems – English, French and Catholic. French schools increased their share of students – from 0.5 per cent to 0.9 per cent. And Catholic schools increased their share from 19.9 per cent to 22.1 per cent.
Additionally, an increased share attended non-government options. Two types exist in Saskatchewan – independent schools and home-schooling. Both are permitted and some funding is available to qualifying independent schools and home-schooling families.
The independent school sector almost doubled enrolments. These independently-owned and operated schools are home to diverse religious or pedagogical orientations such as Christian, Jewish, Islamic, Montessori or arts-based education. Enrolments are modest (under 4,300 students in 2014-15), and the share of students attending remains small, but it increased from 1.2 per cent to 2.4 per cent of all enrolments.
Home-schooling enrolments tell a similar story. Enrolments are also modest (less than 2,200 students) but the share of all Saskatchewan home-schooled students rose from 0.9 per cent (in 2000-01) to 1.2 per cent of students (in 2014-15). Just behind Manitoba and Alberta, Saskatchewan shows the highest share of home-schooled students in Canada.
Shifts in student enrolments make at least one thing clear – an increasing share of Saskatchewan students and their families are choosing something other than government-provided English public schools for their children.
Deani Van Pelt is a senior fellow at the Fraser Institute.