When making the move to a new country such as Canada, navigating a new education system can be a daunting prospect full of conflicting advice. Where should you send your children: an international school like other expats, or a local district public school? Or perhaps you might prefer to home school. There are advantages to each and the decision is not always straightforward.

The Canadian education system is known for its high standards, and comprises four public school models, private schools, and home schooling. To help you make the best decision for you and your children, we have summarized the main features of each.

Overview of Canadian School Systems

By law, children in Canada must go to school from the age of five or six until they are between sixteen or eighteen, depending on the province or territory. In Ontario, they are required to continue studying until 18. Many children also attend kindergarten prior to stating elementary school, from the age of four years old.

Classes are divided into Grades 1-12 across all territories and children usually go from primary / elementary school to secondary between grades 6 and 8.

Under the Canadian system, education is a provincial responsibility, and school boards manage schools within thirteen designated provinces. They deal with administration, enrollment, personnel and facilities, and provide help and guidance to parents wishing to enroll their kids in Canada. They will assess all new students to see what level they should enter at and if they need additional support or free language lessons in French or English.

Public Schools

When expats plan their international move to Canada with a work permit, they can usually enroll their children in public school, many of which are now accepting international students. The four models of public schools within the government-funded system are: English Public, English Catholic, French-language Public and French-language Catholic. In order to enroll a child in a Catholic elementary and secondary school, one or both parents must be Roman Catholic. But in some cases, Catholic elementary schools will admit non-Catholic children. French schools will generally admit any children wishing for a Francophone education.

Almost all public schools are co-ed and offer day programs.

Private Schools    

Private schools are not publicly funded and pupils must pay to attend them. They carry with them a certain prestige and many of Canada’s leading political and business figures were educated privately.

They may focus on a specific area of education (e.g. religion, the arts, science) or be more general in their curriculum. They may be girls-only, boys-only, or mixed; and in some provinces, they may be boarding schools as well as day schools. Fees generally range from around CAD$30,000 to CAD$60,000 per year.

Private schools usually offer smaller class sizes and a higher ratio of teachers to students, allowing for closer attention and rapport between the two. They also tend to encourage close involvement of parents both with teachers and their children’s studies at home. Greater financial resources also mean greater investment in facilities, staff, and trans-disciplinary innovation.

Most Canadian private schools are required by province law to be registered with their respective ministries of education and meet their curriculum standards; however in Ontario, private schools operate independently and are not regulated by the Ministry of Education.

While for some families the decision between French or English will be an easy one to make, parents are advised to take into consideration the long-term advantages of an education in each language as well as personal choices and preferences.

International schools are private schools that allow many students coming to Canada from abroad to continue their curriculum from home.

Home Schooling

Home schooling is a growing movement in Canada and legal in all territories. In Ontario, there is no legal requirement to register with any regulatory or government body in order to educate your children at home.

Which School is Right for You?

Choosing between a district public school and private international one is not easy, especially in a country like Canada where standards are impressively high across the board. While a public school education is sure to more fully immerse your child in the local culture and community, private international school may offer better facilities and connections, and a more seamless transition to a new life abroad with a familiar and navigable study system.

The web boasts a huge variety of sites dedicated to the Canadian education system, and there is a wealth of information and advice for any parent looking to decide which option to go for. With plenty of research and an open and honest dialogue with your little ones, you will be sure to make an informed and well-considered decision for their future.

Written by Einat Mazafi
Einat Mazafi is the owner of NY International Shipping, an International Shipping and moving company based in New York. She is also a specialist in providing the best relocation solutions to clients worldwide.