Like many immigrants moving with kids I had a thousand questions on the school system prior to arriving in Canada and unfortunately I struggled to find answers anywhere. The Internet is full of practical information to help newcomers settle but there was little on the workings of schools, the routine, the everyday experiences that your children will encounter. How are you supposed to calm a child who’s nervous about a new school when you are armed with such little information? Over the next few posts I am going to attempt to share my knowledge of the Ontario school system, it is worth noting that I am writing this not as an educator or anyone in authority but simply as a Mum. Eldest son is now in the final semester in High school and youngest son is in Grade 6 in an elementary school.
Ontario is divided into 83 publically funded school boards, which are one of the following four types; English public, English Catholic, French public and French Catholic. As I am neither French nor Catholic I will only be writing about the English public school system. Some elementary schools run a French Immersion programme where the children are taught all subjects mainly in French, usually French Immersion programmes need to be started by Grade 1. Compulsory education begins when children turn 6 and continues until grade 12 when they turn 18. The school year runs from September to June
School starts with Junior Kindergarten (JK) and Senior Kindergarten (SK) and then it moves onto grades 1 -12. Elementary schools are usually JK – Grade 8 and High schools are grades 9-12. Some areas have middle schools, which cater for grade 7 and 8 only. Kindergarten education is not compulsory although the vast majority of children do attend. Kindergarten is usually part time, however, it is in the process of becoming full time in all schools across Ontario. The structure of the grade is somewhat different to the UK. Children attend school with those born in the same calendar year, for example, grade 6 students will all turn 12 between January 1st and December 31st whereas in the UK the year 7 students will all turn 12 between September 1st and August 31st.
In England getting your child a place in a particular school is difficult and stressful to say the least, deadlines for application and then putting your fate in the lap of the Gods while you await the decision is enough to cause sleepless night for parents and kids alike. In Ontario it could not be more different. I remember visiting the schools that we hoped the boys would be attending when we were on our fact-finding visit. I was desperate (with my English head on) to get the boys names put down but we couldn’t do it. We kept being told that we needed to be living there first, I just didn’t understand. When my husband then made his solo trio over to buy the house I armed him with all the necessary forms and paperwork to register the boys in school and followed up with emails to the schools explaining our situation. In hindsight I must have looked like a complete lunatic. He was able to register youngest son at Elementary school but Eldest son needed to be present in order to register him in high school. I tried to explain that we would be arriving in the summer holidays when school was closed so they told me to phone when the staff was back to school during the last week in August some 7 days before the school year started! The point I was totally missing was that here kids go to their ‘home school’. Each school is given a specific area (which can be checked on the Internet) EVERY child who lives in their particular area goes to that school, end of story. There is no such thing as changing boundaries depending on numbers, priority to siblings or schools being full. Wherever you live you have a designated school that you will attend. I wish someone had told me that earlier so I that needn’t of worried about the boys getting in to our chosen schools. You can register a kid one day and have them start the next, easy peasy!
You will need certain paperwork in order to register you child in school namely, a birth certificate, proof of your emigration status, proof of your residence (rental agreement or mortgage) & immunisation records. That is it, so simple. There seems to be much less of a gap here between good schools and bad schools so going out of catchment to find a good school is pretty much unheard of.
Coming up in my next installment;
Transportation to school
The Structure of the School Day