Establishing an Independent School
Date came into force or revised
Revised: October 5, 2021
Independent schools must be established and certified in accordance with the Independent School Act (PDF).
Rationale or purpose of policy
To provide an outline of the process for establishing and certifying an independent school
Independent School Act (PDF) Section 4 and Schedule
Policy in full
All British Columbia independent schools must satisfy the Inspector of Independent Schools that they meet the requirements specified in the Independent School Act (PDF), and Regulations, Minister's Orders, and Inspector's Orders. The procedures described within this policy set out the steps that must be taken to establish and certify an independent school.
New school proponents are solely responsible for being aware of, and meeting, all the submission dates, and other requirements set out in the procedures below. Late or incomplete submissions will result in an application not being approved. Special consideration may be given if the applicant can provide satisfactory evidence that extraordinary circumstances beyond their control resulted in their inability to meet a deadline. Failure to adhere to all procedures and requirements of this policy may result in the denial of an application.
Before You Begin
The Application Process
- Thoroughly review and be familiar with the Independent School Information for Administrators.
- See the Infographic: Opening an Independent School in British Columbia (PDF).
- Applicants that do not have experience in navigating the B.C. education system, specifically with establishing an independent school, may benefit from hiring an educational consultant. FISA BC may be able to assist in finding an educational consultant. The Ministry’s role as regulator prevents it from providing this type of assistance.
- Develop a clear model of the school you are seeking to open. Consider:
- Classification being sought
- Initial grade ranges (and final desired grade ranges) offered
- Educational philosophy; and
- Sustainability, growth, and marketing plans for the proposed school model
- Be aware that late or incomplete submissions may result in the denial of an application.
- Any exceptions to the deadlines presented in this policy are at the discretion of the Inspector of Independent Schools in consideration of evidence of exceptional circumstances provided by the applicant.
- Earlier submission is encouraged and will speed the application’s review and processing.
- Understand that progression through the application process requires successful completion of the previous requirements. Interim certification (Step 4), for example, will not be issued without the prior, successful completion of Steps 1 – 3.
- Note, as a result of the requirements of the Bonding Act, a bond provided by a Group 4 applicant can take up to three years to return depending on the circumstances, even for a school that does not open. See the Group 4 Independent School Bonding Policy.
- This policy applies to all proposed new schools wishing to receive certification as a B.C. independent school and to all entities offering schooling to 10 or more students, barring the specifically exempted entities described in Section 19(1) of the Independent School Act.
- Authorities of formerly certified independent schools that have ceased to operate need to reapply in accordance with this policy if they seek to reopen.
- Authorities wishing to transfer a school from one authority to another are required to contact the Ministry well in advance of the proposed date of transfer as there may be a requirement to apply under this policy.
- This is an annual cycle, leading to a September school opening. Mid-year school start-ups will not be considered. Applications will only be accepted for schools commencing operations the following September (i.e., it is not possible to apply more than one year in advance of the planned school opening).
- Only in extraordinary circumstances, where that applicant can satisfy the Ministry that the well-being of children or youth is a consideration, will an application be permitted to proceed outside timelines set out in this policy.
- Early submission of complete and satisfactory documentation and any additional required information may allow for early processing, interview, and subsequent issuance of interim certification. The application forms for the correct school year must be used for the application.
- While timelines will vary based on the circumstances of each application, receiving interim certification typically takes 3 – 4 months to complete.
Ministry Response Standard
Step 1 - Expression of Interest
Expressions of interest may be submitted between September 1 and December 1.
Proponents will typically be notified within 2 weeks of submission whether or not they will be invited to Step 2.
Step 2 - Interview
Materials for interview must be submitted by January 1.
The interview must be completed before March 15.
Proponents will typically be offered an interview time within 3 weeks of providing their complete interview submission to the Ministry.
Proponents are typically notified of the results of the interview within two weeks of the interview’s completion.
Step 3 - Application for Interim Certification
The complete application for interim certification must be submitted no later than May 1.
Interim certification is typically issued within 4 weeks of receipt of a complete and satisfactory application.
Step 4 - Interim Certification
School receives interim certification and may begin marketing and recruiting students. (See section F. below for conditions relating to student fees and refunds).
Step 5 - School Opening
School opens in the first week of September.
On September 20, a new school must provide a written confirmation of enrolment, including whether or not it expects to have as of the September 30 1701 data collection:
The Ministry will review the September 20 enrolment confirmation and will typically respond within one to two business days if there are any concerns related to the school’s enrolment count and potential impacts on certification status if the school anticipates not having sufficient enrolment to meet certification conditions.
Step 6 - External Evaluation
Proponent will be contacted by the Ministry to schedule an external evaluation inspection.
An external evaluation inspection will be scheduled for the fall (typically October) of the first year of operation.
Sep 7 - Certification
Timelines for the resolution of any items identified in the external evaluation will be communicated to the school authority through the evaluation report.
Certification will be issued upon successful completion and resolution of any requirements identified in the external evaluation.
- Information on the four groups of independent school certification can be found in the Classification of Independent Schools Policy.
- Due to the requirement for a satisfactory Statement of Per Student Operating Cost Report from the previous school year, Group 1 certification is only possible in the second and subsequent school years (subject to the school’s previous school year’s Statement of Per Student Operating Cost Report).
- The Ministry of Education is not currently entering into Online Learning Agreements for new online learning schools.
- After the submission of an Expression of Interest, a prospective school authority may develop a web presence that clearly and prominently states on the home page the prospective school is seeking certification and is not yet currently certified. This website may be used, for example, for the purpose of recruiting prospective school staff or securing a letter of municipal compliance. The website may not promote or facilitate student recruitment until after interim certification (Step 4).
- In extraordinary circumstances, where a prospective school authority is able to demonstrate exceptional value to a community, the Ministry may consider permitting limited marketing prior to receiving an expression of interest.
- Recruiting students for a proposed new school may not begin prior to the issuance of an interim certificate (Step 4).
- New schools must have 10 or more school age students who are enrolled with the school and reported as 1.00 FTE each as of September 30, in accordance with the 1701 instructions for independent schools for the September data collection. Failure to do so may result in the termination of the interim certificate.
- Schools seeking Group 2 or 3 Classification must ensure that at least 50% B.C. resident students are enrolled as of September 30. Failure to do so may result in the termination of the interim certificate.
- Prior the 1701 data collection, schools must report their overall enrolment and the number of resident and international students to the Inspector of Independent Schools no later than September 20. (Step 5).
- Department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada requires that a school be certified, at least on an interim basis, prior to considering study permit applications from students.
- All schools marketing materials (e.g. websites) must accurately reflect the schools Certificate of Group Classification and the programs offered.
- All schools should have clear policies and procedures in place with regard to fee refunds, please review the School Fee Refund Guidelines (PDF). All schools are required to implement and abide by the Ministry’s Anti-Money Laundering/Cash Payment Policy restrictions.
- Fees include tuition fees, boarding fees and any other fees, charges or deposits collected by the school authority.
- Prior to interim certification being issued, no fees for prospective students may be collected.
- In the period between receipt of interim certification and July 1 of the year the school intends to begin operating, a deposit of up to CDN $500 per student may be collected. No other fees from families may be collected during this time.
- After July 1 of that year, an authority may collect fees for the school year commencing the following September only after the authority has posted its fee refund policy online and in any relevant printed materials, e.g. parent handbook.
- School authorities must not collect fees for multiple years.
- If a proposed school with interim certification does not commence operations or does not receive certification following initial external evaluation, interim certification will be revoked.
- As set out in the Fee Refund Guidelines
- Group 1, 2, and 3 schools’ refund policy must include the following statement in the first year of operation:
- The Inspector of Independent Schools expects schools with interim Group 1, 2, or 3 certification to have access to enough cash-on-hand to provide fee refunds in the event that the school fails to open or fails to receive certification after an initial external evaluation inspection or otherwise closes during its first year of operation.
- Group 4 schools’ fee refund policy must include the following statement in the first year of operation:
- The Inspector of Independent Schools expects start-up schools with interim Group 4 certification to have access – without recourse to the Group 4 Independent School Bond – to enough cash-on-hand to provide fee refunds in the event that the school fails to open, fails to receive certification after an initial external evaluation inspection, or otherwise closes during its first year of operation. Ministry of Education administration of a Group 4 independent school bond for the purpose of providing partial refunds can be a lengthy process, taking up to 40 months, and parents should not rely on partial refunds derived from this bond for any payment required before this time period (e.g. parents should not rely on the partial refund coming from the bond to pay fees at another school).
- Prospective new schools should consider involving a B.C. certified educator, ideally with experience establishing new independent schools in B.C. and school administration experience to advise on the development of the education program at an early stage. FISA BC may be able to assist in finding an educational consultant. Insufficient B.C. education sector expertise is a common reason for rejected applications.
- Certification will only be granted for schools seeking to offer adjacent grades, for example Grades K-6 inclusive. Grades K-3 and 6, for example would not meet this requirement.
- A prospective school, planning to offer Grades K-9, may start by offering one grade or multiple adjacent grades. If a school seeks to alter its certification to add grades in a subsequent year, approval will only be given to the addition of adjacent grades. For example, if a school is initially certified to offer grades K-3, it would not be approved to offer Grade 5 without also offering Grade 4.
- A prospective school seeking to offer grades that comprise the Graduation Program (Grades 10-12) will only be certified if it offers at least Grade 10 at the time of certification. It may seek approval to offer further adjacent grades in subsequent years. For example, a school certified to offer Grade 10 would not be certified to offer Grade 12 without also being certified to offer Grade 11.
- In Grades 10-12, the school’s educational program must offer a sufficient number of required and elective graduation program course credits at each grade level that the school offers. Students must be able to earn sufficient course credits in each offered grade to ensure they can earn the required minimum graduation credits at the school itself. Students may select elective course credits from Online Learning programs over and above the required 80 graduation program credits offered at the school.
- In the first year of operation, new schools can only offer programs to school-aged students and are not permitted to enrol students in adult graduation programs. Prior, written approval of the Inspector of Independent Schools is required before enrolling adult students in subsequent years of operation; the Inspector’s decision will be based on the school’s history of offering the graduation program to school-aged students.
- Independent school authorities and principals will be granted access to information bulletins from the Deputy Minister of Education. The Deputy Minister’s Bulletin is the Ministry's main communication tool to independent school authorities and principals. New school principals will be provided access to the Bulletins after receipt of interim certification. Communications are posted each week. School authorities and principals are encouraged to share this information as appropriate with staff.
- Any significant changes during the application process, such as substantive changes in the authority responsible for the prospective school, facility location, proposed grade ranges, intended school classification or any other major change must be clearly communicated to the Ministry prior to implementation. Failure to report such changes may result in the denial of an application or revocation of interim certification.
Procedures related to policy
In order to determine eligibility for certification, prospective applicants must complete the following steps:
- Submit an Expression of Interest (EOI) form (DOCX) to the Ministry of Education at email@example.com
- EOI forms (for school start up the following September) will be accepted between September 1 and December 1.
- Key requirements of the EOI (DOCX):
- Establish an independent school authority.
- Provide outlined information to assess the readiness and sustainability of a prospective authority to operate a school.
- Develop a fee refund policy for review by the Ministry during Step 2 which, if it meets the Ministry’s satisfaction, will be posted once the interim certificate has been granted (Step 4).
- Locate a suitable potential school facility.
- Begin working on more detailed business plan containing the information set out in the Interview Checklist (PDF).
- Begin working with the local government (municipality, regional district, or First Nations government) to ensure compliance with local requirements.
- Group 4 applicants only – additional requirements:
- Begin working with financial institution or surety bond provider to determine eligibility for obtaining an adequate bond.
- The Ministry will invite applicants who have satisfactorily completed the EOI (Step 1) to meet for an interview
- In preparation for the interview, prospective applicants are required to prepare a fully completed draft version of the Application for Interim Certification (Step 3) and all items listed in the Interview Checklist (PDF) to discuss during the Interview
- The draft interim certification application form and all related documents must be submitted no later than January 1 – earlier submissions are welcome.
- Applicants are required to schedule and complete the Interview no later than March 15 – earlier form submissions and subsequent interview scheduling is welcome. The Ministry will work with applicants to set a mutually agreeable meeting date, but final meeting dates will be set by the Ministry.
- The Interview Checklist (PDF) provides a list of required materials.
- The Inspector of Independent Schools will conduct an in-depth interview to assess motivation, preparation, familiarity with provincial curriculum requirements, any prior independent school experience, capacity, school goals and ability to start an independent school that will successfully meet Ministry requirements.
- During the interview essential certification requirements and inspection processes will be reviewed and discussed in detail
- All draft policies/procedures indicated in the interview checklist must be provided.
- If an early submission is found to be complete and sufficient, the Ministry will invite the applicant to an interview within two weeks.
- Prospective applicants should be informed of the result of the Interview within two weeks after the Interview.
- Prospective applicants who have satisfactorily completed the interview (Step 2) will be invited to submit a formal Application for Interim Certification (DOCX)
- Applications must be received no later than May 1 – earlier submission is welcome
Additional Information for ALL Applicants
- Required final supporting documents include:
- Proof of facility inspection and written confirmation of suitability of facility by the local building, fire and health authorities or those approved by Aboriginal and Northern Development Canada (AANDC)
- Confirmation of water testing consistent with the policy “Testing Lead Content in Drinking Water of Independent School Facilities”.
- See Interview Checklist (PDF)
- Operation as a B.C. certified school prior to September 1 is prohibited
Additional Information for Group 4 Applicants
- The Application for Interim Certification (DOCX) will not be reviewed until the applicant provides an irrevocable letter of credit or surety bond (with the Minister of Finance as beneficiary) in the amount at least $100,000 issued by a bank or surety company in B.C.
- International students may not be enrolled until after the school has been issued interim certification
- Upon satisfactory completion of Steps 1 through 3, the Ministry of Education will issue an interim Group 3 certificate typically by June 30 permitting the school to begin operation in September.
- Operation as a B.C. certified school prior to September 1 and prior to having received interim certification is prohibited.
- Upon issuance of interim certification, the Ministry of Education will schedule a full inspection (external evaluation – see Step 6) which typically takes place in October.
- Interim certification is valid for the dates specified on the Interim Certificate unless the School Authority receives full certification from the Ministry of Education or the Interim Certificate is revoked.
- Upon issuance of interim certification, the Ministry will grant applicants permission to start marketing the prospective school’s intended opening in September with specific claims stating that:
- The B.C. Ministry of Education authorizes the applicant to offer an educational program beginning in September, and
- The school will be fully inspected in in the fall and expects, upon resolution of any compliance issues identified during the inspection, to be issued full certification by the B.C. Ministry of Education shortly thereafter.
- Failure to maintain the requirements for certification may result in the decertification of a school.
- After receipt of interim certification, fees may not be collected, other than a deposit of up to $500 per student, prior to July 1 of the year the school intends to begin operating.
- If a school fails to achieve or maintain B.C. Ministry of Education Group 4 certification during the first year of operation, collected fees and tuition will be reimbursed by the School Authority according to its posted refund policy.
- The first week of classes usually begins in early September. Classes must be in session before September 30
- Any other final preparations should be made to open the school and welcome students
- The Authority must complete an External Evaluation Report form
- The Authority must complete the External Evaluation Report form and submit it to the Ministry before the second Friday in September
- The External Evaluation Report Form (DOCX) is revised each Spring.
- For further information please see the External Evaluation and Inspection Policy for Independent Schools.
- Certified independent schools in B.C. are regularly inspected by the Ministry of Education to ensure the program continues to meet the requirements of the B.C. Ministry of Education and the Independent School Act.
- The Ministry reserves the right to inspect schools at any time.
- The Ministry of Education posts a guide for schools for the completion of External or Monitoring Inspection templates.
- Upon completion of a successful school external evaluation, and the resolution of any requirements identified, the interim classification will be adjusted to Group 2, 3 or Group 4 certification and the school will be eligible to offer courses for graduation credit.
- Timelines for the resolution of any items identified in the external evaluation will be communicated to the school authority through the evaluation report
- Schools are not eligible for Group 1 certification in the first year of operation
- Initial (Interim) certification is provided for one year. Upon satisfactory completion of the first year of operation, ongoing certification will be granted
- Failure to maintain the requirements for certification may result in the decertification of a school