Choosing a school in Canada

If you have school aged children, one of the tasks of settling down in a new city or Country would involve finding a good school for your child. There are a variety of options available to you when deciding on your child’s education.

Academic Structure

In Canada, schools are divided into Elementary (Kindergarten to Grade 6), Junior High (Grade 7-9), and Senior High (Grades 10-12). Some schools don’t have this clear division of Grades and could have a combination of some elementary and Junior high grades. For example, a school may have only Grades 4 – 9.

Types of Schools

Public Schools

Public Schools are Provincially funded schools and are free to school aged students residing in the Province. Students are required to pay for school supplies and this can be anywhere from $30 – $200 annually depending on the school and grade. Each community has its own designated school and children from that community are expected to enroll in the designated school for their area. Parents may choose to enroll their kids in a school other than their designated school. This could be as a result of proximity or school rating. Whatever the case may be, priority is usually given to students from the community.  Other kids from outside may be given consideration if there is space availability.

Private Schools

Private Schools are non-publicly funded schools. Students attending these schools pay tuition established by the school.
All private schools are required to follow their Provincial education requirements at the minimum. However, Private schools are allowed to set their own admission guidelines, which generally meet or exceed Provincial requirements. Many of them boast small size classes that allow your child individualized attention. Some of them focus on preparing students for Post-secondary schools by offering the Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) Programs.

Charter Schools

These types of schools are available in Alberta and receive only operational funding from the Provincial Government. They are autonomous schools established to “provide innovative or enhanced education programs that improve the acquisition of student skills, attitudes, and knowledge in some measurable way.” (Alberta Education, 2010). For example, Calgary Girls Schools, a school for girls from Grades 4-9, “helps girls develop leadership and problem-solving skills, and a strong voice for issues that are important personally, in their community and in the world at large.” (Calgary Girls Schools Website).

Language Immersion Schools

 Canada is a bilingual, with French speakers common in the East and English speakers in the West. If you want your child to be fluent in the non-dormant language of the Province you reside, you may consider enrolling them in a Language immersion school.Both Private and Public schools cater to this demand. Because of the language requirements, many do not accept students after a certain grade. English and French are the two most common Langages these schools offer. All or some instructions are provided to students in the second language.

Home School and Online

Some parent may choose to home school their children and this is completely acceptable in Canada. This has become a popular trend in recent years with tons of Blogs and support group available to provide guidance and resources. Examples include Online schools that allow student to complete high school from the comfort of their homes. Like regular schools, homeschooling is governed by Provincial Educational regulation and varies across Provinces. Some of them provide funding to parents while some Provinces don’t. You are required to provide some form of reporting of your child’s progress to a school board on a regular basis.

Religious Schools

There are others schools which fall under religious affiliation. They are usually not public schools and admission requirements are set by the private body. Like private schools, they are still required to meet provincial educational requirements at a minimum.

Factors to consider when deciding on Schools

Proximity and Neighborhood

If you are enrolling your child in a public school, the designated school for your community will determine the school they can attend. This does not apply to Private and Charter Schools. If you are considering sending your child to a particular public school, it makes sense to purchase or rent in the catchment area for that school.
Having your child in a school closer to home affects a lot of things. For example, ability to walk to school versus going on the bus or paying for childcare, or having friends in the neighbourhood that attend the same school.

School rating

Whether you are considering a public or private school, it is always a good thing to find out how well the school rates. You can do this by talking to parents whose kids attend the school or visiting the school’s website to read about their policies.

Most schools have open houses where parents gets to  interact with staff and students and see what the school is about.  In terms of academic performance, some may post the results of their students’ Provincial Achievement Test (PAT) or their high school completion rate. Finally, if the school participates in the Fraser Institute survey, you can see how they rank on their website here. The ranking is only available for four Provinces (Alberta, Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia).

School Schedule

Each province sets the number of hours of instructions that students must get in a school year. This is spread across a 10 months period starting in the fall, (Mid-August to first week of September) and ending in June. School hours varies across the board but most are open between 8 – 3:30, with one hour of lunch break and two 15 minutes recesses.

Some school provide busing  provided you live at a specified distance from school. The cost of busing to and from school is covered by parents. High school students being older, are expected to take public transit to get to school or drive themselves if old enough. In summer months or when the weather is warm enough, students are able to ride their bicycles to school.

Between July and August, children enjoy two months of summer with no school. To read about what kids can do during summer, read this article on Childcare in Canada.

What you’ll need to register your child in school

When registering your child in school for the first time, the following documents may be required:

Proof of residence – This can be any utility bill with your name and address on it.

Proof of Citizenship or Legal stay.  A birth Certificate if your are a Citizen, or Immigration records (PR Card or student visa).
Birth certificate – To determine age
Report card from previous school (If applicable)
Immunization records. If this is not up to date, you can have your child immunized at a local community health center for free. This is usually covered under provincial health Insurance.

Grade Placement

Age is the normal criterion used for placement in Canadian Schools. By age five, it is compulsory to have your child enrolled in Kindergarten. Each school board or district have different interpretation of what time of the year the child must have turned five. Some require the child to be five by September and others, latest by December. Following this order, if a child is six years old in grade 1, when they turn 10, they will typically be in Grade 4 (10 – 6) or a child aged 14 will be in Grade 8 (14-6).

Depending on the school you are planning to enroll your child in, and their current grade level, a placement test may also be required to determine your child’s academic ability. Depending on the results, they may be placed in a lower, higher or same grade level as they currently are. If it is left to you to make a decision on whether to skip grade or move a child back, consider the emotional and social maturity of the child.

Parents Involvement in School

From the early stage of schooling, parents are encouraged to be involved in their child’s education. There are various opportunities including, volunteering as Room Parents, field trips, presenting to their class or attending parent council. There are also scheduled meetings throughout the year where parents meet with teachers to get and provide feedback on how their child is performing. Make sure at the minimum, you attend the Parent teacher meetings.

Provincial Examinations

Provincial Achievement Tests (PAT) or equivalents are written in Grades 3,6 and 9 in most Provinces. The purpose of the test is to check how your child is performing academically. The exams do not determine whether your child proceeds to the next grade or not.


Public school students are not required to wear uniforms to school. Schools however have policies and codes on how students are expected to dress to schools. You can usually find this on the school’s website. Most private and Chartered schools on the other hand, require their students wear uniforms. Such schools have variety of uniforms for different occasions or activity e.g Gym stripes, formal uniform for competition, seasonal uniform for the different seasons in Canada. Uniforms are usually purchased from a third party recommended by the schools.

Canadian education system ranks high in the world. Whether you choose to send your child to a private or public school, you can be sure they are getting a sound education in Canada.

Have any questions that was not covered here, please leave a comment below and we will be happy to answer you.

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