How Does Schooling Work in Canada?
By law, all children in Canada must attend school. This includes homeschooling, which we cover towards the end of this article. Each province and territory is slightly different, but children need to start school between the age of 5 or 6 with kindergarten and continue until they are either 16 or 18.
Grades 1–6 (ages 6–12) are usually taught in an elementary school, while grades 7, 8, and 9 (ages 13–15) are often in a junior high or middle school. High school typically covers grades 10, 11, and 12 (ages 15–18). That said, this can be arranged slightly differently, depending on the province and the school district. Some high schools might include all grades between 8 and 12, while some middle schools might include grades 5, 6, and 7. Consult your local district to find out the configuration in the area you plan to live.
The school year tends to start around the end of August or beginning of September and ends in mid- to late June. Over the summer break, children do not have to attend school. Typically, there are also two-week holidays around Christmas/New Year, and one week at Easter. Most schools also have a one to two-week Spring Break that may or may not encompass Easter.
During term time, the school week runs from Monday to Friday, with occasional days off for statutory holidays. Most schools also have additional days off for the professional development of teachers known as “Pro-D Days” (BC) or “PD Days.” School is taught in either English or French, with many French Immersion schools found throughout the country at no additional cost to parents. There are many optional activities at schools, too, particularly as children reach the middle and high school levels.
There is a lot more information about how elementary and high schools in Canada operate on the Canadian Information Centre for International Credentials (CICIC) website.
Get involved in your child’s education
Parents are encouraged to become active participants in their child’s education at every level. This begins at home, by being engaged and interested in their school work and helping with homework. You can do this by getting involved at the school and enquiring about opportunities to get involved at the school board level. You can use this opportunity to make friends with other parents, get to know your child’s teachers, and show your support for their success.
Here is a convenient list of all government education ministries in Canada, arranged by province and territory:
This list can help you find the correct district to contact in order to enrol your child in school.
Registering Your Child for School in Canada
Now that you know that your child must attend school in Canada, you need to know how to go about registering them. Every province is divided into different municipalities, regions, and cities, each with its own School Board.
A School Board is a board of trustees elected by the public that is responsible for maintaining school buildings, hiring and managing local teachers, and upholding a high level of education for all children, regardless of immigration status.
You will need to get in touch with the specific School Board or Authority of the area in which you live to find out about their specific registration requirements. This Wikipedia page links and lists all the School Boards and Authorities across Canada, and is a fantastic resource to help you find yours.
Most School Boards will require you to present a certain amount of paperwork and documentation for your child to register. This will likely include most or all of the following:
- Proof of age, usually in the form of a passport or birth certificate
- Proof of your current address. This can include bank statements, utility bills, or housing agreements
- Proof of legal guardianship, if the child is under the age of 18 and you are not their parent
- Proof of immigration status, including a passport, birth certificate, permanent residence card, Confirmation of Permanent Residence (IMM 5292), or Record of Landing (IMM 1000)
- Their up-to-date immunization record
Even if your child does not have a legally documented immigration status, and/or if you as their parent or guardian do not have legal documentation, all children in Canada between the ages of 6 and 18 have the right to attend school regardless of any lack of documentation. Your local School Board will have a plan on how to proceed in special cases.
Some School Boards have special assessment and reception centres where they require newcomers to have their math and English language skills assessed. This enables them to place your child in the correct grade and classes or arrange for extra tutoring if needed.
They also often have specialized settlement workers who can help you and your child get started on the right track.
Can You Homeschool Your Child in Canada?
Parents have a variety of reasons for wanting to homeschool their child, including religious factors, medical needs, or freedom and flexibility to travel. All provinces and territories in Canada allow for homeschooling, but you must be dedicated and responsible for their education.
Certain set criteria and curriculum standards must be met, and you must keep a tracked record of all learning results and outcomes; standardized tests must also be administered in line with grade level. You must also register with your local School Board and may be subject to home visits.
For more information, contact the specific School Board in your area.