As Laval’s English-speaking population increases, the SWLSB’s enrollment is still falling

Blame falls on private schools, enrollment at other boards and Quebec’s language legislation

Even with the impact of Quebec’s Bill 101 included to account for a decades-long decline in enrolment of English-speaking students from Laval, the Sir Wilfrid Laurier School Board might never have anticipated other factors, such as changing demographics or students whose parents prefer to enroll them in private schools rather than in the public sector.

Laval pop. increased

But the ironic fact is that even as the City of Laval’s population of Anglophone residents has continued to grow to the point where more than 21 per cent of people in Laval are now considered to be English-speaking, enrollment of students from Laval at the SWLSB only continued at the same time to spiral downward.

According to figures based on Canadian statistical data released recently by the Agape-Networking Partners Initiative (Agape-NPI), Laval’s English-speaking population continued to grow (by approximately 40 per cent) since the 2001 (53,390) census until the last census in 2016 (90,975), using the First Official Language Spoken definition as the identifying basis.

SWLSB enrollment declined

Laval’s latest count of English-speakers is 90,975, based on those numbers. The SWLSB, the third-largest school board in Quebec, has an enrollment of more than 14,000 students spread over a vast urban and rural territory, including the Laval region.

It’s no secret among analysts of the province’s education sector that English public schools in Quebec were “bleeding students at an alarming rate” for more than a decade, Jon Bradley and Sam Allison, a retired McGill University education faculty member and an education system critic respectively, wrote in an op-ed piece published in the Montreal Gazette in July 2017.

100 students lost annually

At the SWLSB, board chairman Paolo Galati confirmed to the Laval News that the situation is real. “We lose roughly 100 students from the Sir Wilfrid Laurier School Board every year,” he said in an interview. He said it’s the result largely of SWLSB students transferring to private schools, or else enrolling in enriched-curriculum schools run by the English Montreal School Board across the Rivière des Prairies in Montreal.

Sir Wilfrid Laurier School Board chairman Paolo Galati says student enrollment is starting to rise in the board’s Launaudière/Laurentians areas, but still lags in Laval. (Photo: Courtesy of Quebec English School Boards Association)

As for how much of the decline can be attributed to Bill 101, which first came into effect in 1977, while essentially shutting down what had been until then an open tap for English-speaking enrollment at the province’s Anglophone school boards, Galati said, “That’s pretty complex, in that you have to realize is that it has been limiting the amount of kids that can be allowed into our English school board.”

Lure of the private sector

According to Bradley and Allison’s figures (which came from a 2017 Fraser Institute national study), Quebec had the second-highest percentage of students enrolled in private schools, at 12.3 per cent. From 2000-2001 and 2014-15, the number of students attending private schools in Quebec increased from 105,000 to 122,000, a 16 per cent hike. However, the Fraser report also noted that every Canadian province had seen a decline in students enrolled in the public school system during the same period.

While Galati said that over the past few years enrollment in SWLSB schools in the territories north of Laval (Laurentians/Lower Laurentians/Lanaudière) has started increasing, largely because of rising enrollment in pre-k programs, there’s still been “a slight decrease” in enrollment in Laval, he said.

Another cause: Demographics

Galati explained the lagging numbers in Laval as a phenomenon related to a demographic shift. “We think that the clientele seems to be moving north of Montreal in the past few years,” he said, while noting that the board is responding with the planned construction of new schools in the northern territories, although a new school is also planned for Laval.

Regarding the influence of private schools on the situation, Galati suggested this is currently the main challenge facing enrollment from Laval. He said a significant number of students graduating from the SWLSB grade school program choose afterwards to enroll in EMSB high-school programs in Montreal.

The EMSB’s enriched programs

“The decrease in Laval is the result of kids going to schools such as Royal West and Vincent Massey,” he said, adding that the reason for this is that these EMSB schools offer enriched mathematics and science programs.

However, the SWLSB is currently in the midst of setting up such programs at schools in Laval to stem the loss of students to off-island. Galati said the SWLSB is in talks with the Quebec education ministry to possibly adapt an existing high-school in Laval for the enriched math and science programs.