Children’s Advocate calls for more oversight of Independent Schools in new report

Daily Herald File Photo Saskatchewan's Children's Advocate Lisa Broda released a report on Independent Schools on Tuesday.

On Tuesday, the Saskatchewan Advocate for Children and Youth, Dr. Lisa Broda, released a special investigative report, Making the Grade – Moving Forward in Independent Education that examines the Ministry of Education’s oversight of the province’s registered independent schools.

The report includes 36 recommendations to the Government of Saskatchewan and the Ministry of Education. This includes calls for the Ministry of Education to implement a standardized process that ensures all independent schools adhere to the provincial curriculum. The report also recommends the ministry bar independent schools from employing teachers who do not have a valid Professional A Certificate.

If fully implemented, Broda said the 36 recommendations would result in continued improvement in oversight and accountability. She said they would also better enable students to raise serious concerns, and offer clarity on how the rights and interests of young people can be further supported in independent education, while balancing the rights and freedoms of the schools and respecting the need for choice in education.

“Whether young people in this province receive education through public or private systems, we must be confident that sufficient standards are established and that all children are educated in  safe environments,” Broda said in a press release. “It is also vital that adequate processes are in place to ensure all institutions providing services to children are accountable for their obligations to respect, protect, and fulfill students’ right to access quality education that supports their development to their fullest potential.”

Broda began her investigation after allegations of historical abuse at independent schools were reported in 2022. During the process, she noted instances of potential ongoing gaps in oversight and accountability process implemented by the ministry.

The issues reviewed included the processes of inspection and supervision, complaint mechanisms and the right of young people to participate and be heard, safety and protection of students, quality of education related to the learning environment, teaching and learning processes and the right to non-discrimination.

“Our overarching focus has been on how the Ministry assesses and ensures the protection of the rights, interests, and well-being of children and youth within independent education and determine whether there were gaps in its oversight processes,” Broda explained.

Since the fall of 2022, the Ministry of Education made several changes to regulations, policy, and practices. The report acknowledges the work undertaken by the Ministry to strengthen its oversight of all registered independent schools in the province, however, it also identifies several oversight and quality of service issues that require further improvement.

The Ministry of Education had a chance to review the report before it was released. The Advocate’s office issued a press release Tuesday afternoon saying the Ministry had indicated that it accepted the report, but required more time to review the 36 recommendations.

Broda plans to collaborate with the Ministry to highlight the importance of making these changes and update the public accordingly, the press release reads.

“Our recommendations are directly connected to the evidence we gathered and analyzed,” Broda said. “Although the Ministry has enhanced several aspects of its oversight, our recommendations will facilitate ongoing improvements to support best outcomes for children as we move forward in independent education.”

Independent schools are required to provide a comparable education to that of the provincial system and to respect and protect the rights and interests of students. The Ministry of Education is responsible to ensure this is achieved.

“The school age years are vital to a young person’s development, and children and youth have a right to a quality education. It is incumbent upon the Ministry to provide appropriate oversight to all forms of educational services,” Broda said in a release