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A Guide to School Types and How to Choose the Right One

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In order to provide the best education for their children, parents often need to make important decisions about the type of school they will attend. Many parents want to choose the a school that best matches the child’s needs and family preferences. This article will cover the main types of schools available – public, private, Catholic/religious, and charter—and discuss their advantages and disadvantages. Finally, we will provide some tips for parents to help them make an informed choice.

1. Public Schools

Kids going into a scool

Public schools are funded and controlled by the government, usually the state or local districts. They are required to follow the state’s educational standards and curriculum. Most children in Canada and the United States attend public schools.

Advantages of Public Schools:

  • Free education: Public schools do not charge tuition, and hence, are accessible to students from various socio-economic backgrounds.
  • Diversity: Since public schools are open to all, they generally have a diverse student population, promoting social interaction and better understanding among different cultures and groups.
  • Special education programs: Public schools offer resources and support for students with special needs.
  • Extracurricular activities: Many public schools offer a wide range of extracurricular programs, from sports to clubs and arts programs.

Disadvantages of Public Schools:

  • Larger class sizes: Public schools may have larger class sizes, which can potentially impact the quality of individualized instruction and attention given to each student.
  • Standardized curriculum: Public schools follow a standardized curriculum, which might not cater to the specific educational needs or interests of every child.
  • Restricted resources: Budget constraints could limit some public schools’ resources, impacting areas such as facilities and equipment.

2. Private Schools

Students in uniform lined up

Private schools are independently managed and financed through tuition fees, donations, or endowments, not by the government. In Canada, there are over 1700 private schools serving 280,000 students.

Advantages of Private Schools:

  • Smaller class sizes: Private schools often have smaller student-to-teacher ratios, fostering closer relationships and allowing for individualized instruction.
  • Flexible curriculum: Private schools have the freedom to design their curriculum and teaching methods according to their educational philosophy or specific focus areas. For example, in Ontario, private schools are not required to follow the Ontario curriculum.
  • Specialized programs: Some private schools cater to particular talents or interests, such as arts or science, offering specialized educational programs to their students. Because private schools in many jurisdictions don’t have to follow the curriculum made by the government, some schools offer faster or more advanced curriculum for advanced or gifted students.
  • Increased parental involvement: Many private schools actively encourage and maintain strong communication with parents, fostering a collaborative environment for a child’s education.

Disadvantages of Private Schools:

  • High tuition costs: Private schools can be expensive, limiting their accessibility to families on a budget. Typical private school cost ranges from $10,000 to over $50,000 a year for the most prestigious private schools.
  • Less diversity: With a smaller and sometimes more selective student body, private schools could have less diversity amongst their students.
  • Varied accreditation standards: In some jurisdictions, unlike public schools that follow strict state accreditation guidelines, private school accreditation may vary depending on the accrediting agency. In most provinces in Canada, students who complete the provincial curriculum requirements in a private school are eligible to get provincial high school diploma.

3. Catholic/Religious Schools

Students singing in choir in church

Religious schools, including Catholic schools, are private institutions that focus on integrating religious teachings and values in their curriculum. These schools are usually affiliated with a religious institution, like a church or synagogue.

Advantages of Catholic/Religious Schools:

  • Moral and ethical education: Religious schools aim to instill strong moral values and ethics in their students as part of their education.
  • Close-knit community: Because they often have a shared belief system, religious schools can foster a close-knit and supportive community for students and their families.
  • Academic performance: Studies, such as the one conducted by the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA), have shown that students from religious schools often demonstrate higher academic performance than their peers in public schools.

Disadvantages of Catholic/Religious Schools:

  • Tuition fees: Like other private schools, religious schools charge tuition fees that can impact accessibility for some families.
  • Religious focus: For families who do not adhere to the specific religious beliefs of the school, the religious focus in the education might be a drawback.
  • Curriculum limitations: Some religious schools may limit exposure to certain topics or perspectives that conflict with their religious ideology, potentially impacting a well-rounded education.

4. Charter Schools

Students looking at painting

Charter schools are publicly funded but independently operated schools that receive authorization from a state- or province-issued charter. They are granted more flexibility in their curriculum and teaching methods while being held accountable for student performance. In Canada, only Alberta has charter schools while they are more commonly found in the United States.

Advantages of Charter Schools:

  • Innovation: Charter schools can experiment with innovative teaching methods, curricula, and educational philosophies to improve student learning outcomes.
  • Free education: Like public schools, charter schools are tuition-free and open to all students.
  • Focus on specific areas: Some charter schools specialize in areas such as STEM, arts, or language immersion.
  • Increased parent choice: Charter schools give parents more options within the public education system.

Disadvantages of Charter Schools:

  • Accountability: Charter schools’ performance and accountability can vary depending on state/provincial regulations and governance structures.
  • Restricted resources: Charter schools may face budgetary limitations, as well as facilities and resource constraints.
  • Selective admission process: In some cases, charter schools may use a lottery system or selective process for student admissions, which can be limiting for certain families.

Self-Questionnaire for Choosing the Right School Type for Your Child

Student standing in front of a blackboard with symbols of extracurricular activities

Please read each question carefully and answer by choosing the option that best suits your preferences and needs. Once you have completed the questionnaire, review your answers to help guide your decision towards the type of school that is right for your child.

1. What is your budget for school tuition/fees?

A. I prefer not to pay any tuition or fees or have a limited budget for school expenses.
B. I am willing to invest in a school with higher fees for quality education.

2. What is your preference for class sizes?

A. Class size is not a primary concern for me or I prefer larger class sizes with more students.
B. I prefer smaller class sizes with fewer students.

3. How important is academic performance and college or university preparation?

A. It is highly important, and the school should have a strong academic track record.
B. It is important, but a well-rounded education with other aspects is also valuable.

4. What is your preference regarding school location?

A. I prefer a school close to our home.
B. I am willing to consider schools farther from home if they meet our needs.

5. How important is diversity and inclusion in your child’s school environment?

A. Highly important. I want my child to be in a diverse and inclusive environment.
B. Somewhat important, but not a key decision factor.

6. Are there any specialized programs that your child wants to pursue, such as music program, art program, or STEM program?

A. Yes, my child is interested in a specialized program.
B. Not really / My child already participate or is planning to participate in extracurricular activities outside of school.

7. Are there any educational approaches that you are interested in, such as Montessori education?

A. Yes, there is a specific, alternative educational approach that I’m intrigued about.
B. No, as long as the school offers good instruction and opportunities for extracurricular activities, I’m fine.


So far, if you selected mostly A’s, consider exploring public schools in your area. They typically have no tuition fees, have a diverse student population, and offer a range of extracurricular activities.

If you chose mostly B’s, a private school or a charter school may be a good choice. These types of schools often provide a unique educational approach, smaller class sizes, and in some cases, specialized instruction or programs. Note that while charter schools (also called “independent schools” in some jurisdictions) have lower tuition costs, private school fees tends to be high.

8. How important is faith-based education in your child’s curriculum?

A. It is very important and should be integrated into daily learning.
B. It is not important at all. I prefer a secular education. / It is somewhat important, but not a decisive factor.


If you chose A, consider researching faith-based private schools or religious schools. These schools combine a strong academic foundation with faith-based teachings, which may align with your preferences. In some jurisdictions such as Ontario, certain religious schools such as Catholic schools are funded by the government, and thus have no cost to the parents.

Tips for Choosing the Right School for Your Child

When choosing a good school for their child, parents should consider factors such as the academic programs offered, school culture, and available resources. They should make a list of their child’s unique needs, strengths, and interests, and research schools that cater to these areas. Parents can gather information through online resources, school websites, and by speaking with other parents in their community. Additionally, they should visit the schools in person, speak with teachers, and observe classrooms, as interacting with the learning environment provides valuable insights into the daily experiences of students.

Another important aspect to consider is the school’s performance in terms of academic achievements, test scores, and university or college admissions, as well as available extracurricular activities such as sports, arts, and clubs. This ensures that children have ample opportunities to develop their skills and talents. Furthermore, parents should assess the level of parent involvement and faculty’s dedication to professional development; strong partnerships between parents, teachers, and administrators contribute to a child’s success.


In conclusion, understanding the advantages and disadvantages of various school types can help parents make informed decisions about their child’s education. By considering factors such as curriculum, cost, teaching philosophy, and community, parents can choose the school that will best meet their child’s individual needs and help them reach their full potential.