Pavone: “Writing is on the wall for English schools”

Pavone: “Writing is on the wall for English schools”

Public schools reverse flight to private sector

By Robert Frank

Crushed between declining demographics and Quebec’s language laws, the province’s English school boards foresee a future filled with irreversible decline.

Paradoxically, that’s despite having achieved remarkable success during the past five years in reversing the flight of students to the private sector, assistant director-general Carol Heffernan told the Lester B. Pearson School Board (LBPSB) executive, during a public meeting, April 20.

“[The proportion of eligible children coming to our schools] has actually increased,” she said in response to a question posed by LBPSB Commissioner Josh Arless.

“Based on an access-to-information request to the [Education] Ministry, to find out how many students had eligibility on our territory, our position relative to English private schools and the French public school system has gone up nine [percentage] points, so it has improved over the past five years,” Heffernan reported.

Pool draining fast

With the peak of the baby boomlet now age 23, though, public school boards’ improved competitive edge only means that they’re taking in a bigger slice of a more swiftly shrinking pie.

“In the 2009-2010 school year, 30,000 students on our territory were eligible,” Heffernan stated. “Last year that dropped to 26,000 eligible for English schooling.”

Commissioner Domenic Pavone warned that Quebec government forecasts sound a death knell for the province’s English public schooling.

“According to government predictions, we will be going down even more, to less than 18,000 students,” he observed.

“Unless the Quebec government changes the law to address our situation, the writing is on the wall,” Pavone lamented. “It’s great that we have a good share of students, but it doesn’t demonstrate that we can get more students in our system. We can’t. So we’re just declining year after year.”

He cited a study that he said showed that LBPSB loses 28 per cent of students who leave its elementary schools to move out of Quebec or switch to French public or English private schools.

“That is correct,” confirmed LBPSB director general Robert Mills, “but we’re drawing from a smaller pool. Our percentage of what we’re taking in from that pool is increasing but it cannot take away from the fact that the entire pool is shrinking, never to grow again.”
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(Left to right) Robert Mills and Domenic Pavone
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