Establishing an Independent School
Date came into force or revised
Revised: October 31, 2018
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 meet the requirements specified in the Independent School Act (PDF), and Regulations, Minister's Orders and Inspector's Orders. The procedures below set out the steps that must be taken to establish an independent school. This is an annual cycle, leading to a September school opening. Mid-year school start-ups will not be considered.
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. Please note that early submission of complete and satisfactory documentation and any additional required information may allow for early processing, interview, and subsequent issuance of interim certification. Late or incomplete submissions by the required dates may result in an application not being approved.
Please note that the Ministry of Education is not currently entering into Distributed Learning Agreements for new distributed learning schools.
Procedures related to policy
In order to determine eligibility for certification, prospective applicants must complete the following steps:
Before You Begin
- Thoroughly review and be familiar with the Independent School Information for Administrators
- See the Infographic: Opening an Independent School in British Columbia (PDF)
- Be aware that the deadlines presented in this policy are final deadlines; earlier submission is encouraged and will speed the application’s review and processing
- For Group 1, 2, and 4 schools, consider the involvement of a BC certified educator with school administration experience to advise on the development of the education program at an early stage
- 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
- Be aware that advertising a school may not begin prior to the issuance of an interim certificate (Step 4)
- Connect with ministry staff to discuss the application process: EDUC.IndependentSchoolsOffice@gov.bc.ca
- Submit an Expression of Interest (EOI) form (DOCX) to the Ministry of Education at firstname.lastname@example.org
- EOI forms for (for school start up the following September) will be accepted between October 1 and March 1. No EOI forms will be accepted after March 1
- Key requirements of the EOI (DOCX):
- Establish an independent school authority
- Locate a suitable potential school facility
- 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
- Develop a fee and tuition refund policy for review by the Ministry during Step 2 and, if it meets the Ministry’s satisfaction, to be posted once the Interim Certificate has been granted (Step 4)
- 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) to discuss during the Interview
- The draft Interim Certification Application form and related documents must be submitted no later than April 1 – earlier submission is welcome
- Applicants are required to schedule and complete the Interview no later than May 15 – earlier form submission 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 Independent Schools Branch 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 discussed in detail
- Applicants are required to submit a package of required materials to the Ministry no later than May 1 and earlier submissions are required at least two weeks in advance of the interview date
- The Interview Checklist (DOCX) provides a list of required materials
- Prospective applicants will be told the result of the Interview within two weeks.
- 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 June 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”
Additional Information for Group 1, 2, and 3 Applicants
- Depending on a successful review of the Application for Interim Certification (DOCX), the Ministry may 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 recognizes the new school application to offer an educational program beginning in September
- The school will be fully inspected in October, and expects, upon successful completion of the inspection, to be issued BC Ministry of Education certification shortly thereafter
- 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.
- Depending on a successful review of the Application for Interim Certification (DOCX) submission, the Ministry may 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 recognizes the new school’s application to offer an educational program beginning in September
- The school will be fully inspected in October, and expects, upon successful completion of the inspection, to be issued B.C. Ministry of Education receive full certification shortly thereafter
- If the 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
- Operation as a B.C. certified school prior to September 1 is prohibited
- 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 no later than 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) to take place in October
- See Step 6 for information on full certification
- All policies relating to school operation (not already finalized) are required to be finalized before the beginning of school
- The first week of classes usually begins in early September
- Any other final preparations should be made to open the school and welcome students
- Refer to the list of Independent School policies
- The Authority must complete an External Evaluation Report form
- The External Evaluation Report form must be completed and submitted to the Ministry before the second Friday in September
- The External Evaluation Report Form (DOCX) is revised each Spring
- Upon completion of a successful school external evaluation, the Interim Group 3 classification will be adjusted to Group 2, 3 or Group 4 certification and the school will be eligible to offer courses for graduation credit
- Schools are not eligible for Group 1 certification in the first year of operation
- Initial certification is provided for one year. Upon satisfactory completion of the first year of operation, ongoing certification will be granted
- 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
- For further information please see the External Evaluation and Inspection Policy for Independent Schools
All potential applicants must be aware of the following:
- The Ministry reserves the right to inspect schools at any time
- New schools must have 10 or more school age students who are enrolled with the school and reported as 1.00 FTE each, in accordance with the 1701 instructions for independent schools for the September data collection
- 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 approved for certification if it offers at least Grade 10 at the time of initial 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 approved 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 course credits at each grade level that the school offers in the graduation program. 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. Students may select elective course credits from Distributed Learning programs over and above the required 80 graduation program credits offered at the school.
- New schools can only offer programs to school-aged students in their first year of operation. Enrolling adult students in subsequent years will require prior approval of the Independent Schools Branch and will be based on a history of offering the graduation program to school-aged students.
- New schools may not enrol international students before receiving Interim Certification. The federal government’s Department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada requires certification prior to considering study permit applications from students.
- Independent school authorities and principals should regularly visit the Ministry of Education Independent Schools website and E-board. The E-board is the Ministry's main communication tool to independent school authorities and principals. New school principals will be provided E-board access after receipt of interim certification. Communications are posted every Friday afternoon. School authorities and principals are encouraged to share this information as appropriate with staff.