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An independent school is independent in its finances and governance. It is usually not dependent upon national or local government to finance its operations, nor reliant on taxpayer contributions, and is instead funded by a combination of tuition charges, donations, and in some cases the investment yield of a 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 or private schools are the fastest growing education sector, and over 90% of them have a religious or church affiliation. In 2015, there were 1,016 independent schools, catering for over 576,000 students in Australia. Some independent schools are prestigious, with enrolment highly sought after and tuition fees to match; however since the 1980s the number of low-fee schools catering for "average" Australians, and in some cases without any religious affiliation, has increased significantly.
Independent schools in Australia make up nearly 16% of total enrollments, 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% to 65% since 1970.
Australian independent schools differ slightly 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 was previously 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 the last two years, after the Gonski Report, the funding formula was changed to compute individual school funding compared to a School Resourcing Standard. The SRS uses exam results from National Literacy and Numeracy tests (NAPLAN), 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% 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.
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[clarification needed] Statutory and Permissive tax exemptions. The objective of the legislation appears to be to level the playing field[clarification needed] 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 has grown continually for the past twenty years.
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.
The NAIS provides this definition of an Independent School:
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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