Tag Archives: high school

Newcomers Guide to the Ontario School System Part 3



This is my final part in this series of posts designed to share my experience of the public school system from the prospective of an expat mum, my aim is to arm newcomers to Canada with the information that I didn’t have when I first arrived.


At Elementary level there aren’t any surprises with the subjects kids learn at school, the usual assortment of numeracy, literacy, arts, science, humanities, physical education etc all make an appearance on the timetable.  Literacy, numeracy and French are usually taught everyday which doesn’t leave a lot of time for everything else.  In my opinion this results in a lack of basic knowledge in subjects such as history and geography, many kids here (even in high school) know very little about the rest of the world.  Music is another subject that suffers, although it is taught regularly it is little more than singing as instruments aren’t involved until grade 7.

Specialisation begins in Grade 9 when kids start High School.  Although the core subjects are compulsory the level at which they are studied varies depending on the Childs’ post secondary route.  Basically, students need to have an idea when they start high school whether they will go on to further education after graduation and whether they wish to go to college or university. Each year the compulsory subjects decrease in number allowing a higher level of specialisation. Generally high schools offer a much bigger range of subjects than secondary schools in England and include such courses as animation, construction, robotics, international business, fashion design and car mechanics.


High School

High schools provide education for grade 9 – 12.  Students take 8 subjects each year and gain a ‘credit’ for each subject they pass.  In order to receive your OSSD (Ontario Secondary School Diploma) you have to have at least 30 credits so students are working towards their diploma as soon as they enter high school. There are summer school programmes, which enable students to repeat courses they have failed.  Alternatively there is the opportunity of what is nicknamed a ‘victory lap’, when students complete a grade 13 in order to obtain the required credits. Students in grade 9 will select courses that are either applied or academic depending on whether they are more practical, creative, hands on learners or more academically minded.  Academic courses usually lead to university and applied courses usually lead to college, many subjects can be studied at either applied or academic level but the courses will be lightly different depending on the final destination of the students.

As well as 30 credits students also need to pass a literacy test and complete 40 community volunteer hours.  I personally think it is a fabulous idea to get kids to volunteer and I wonder why this hasn’t been taken up in other countries.  Students arrange their own volunteering so it can be tailored to the individual’s interests.

My eldest son went into grade 11 when we arrived in Canada, his school was very good allocating him credits based on his UK education so he entered grade 11 having accrued the same amount of credits as his classmates.

Assessment is mixture of coursework and final exams with the emphasis on the coursework.  Exams are usually a small percentage of the final grade, they are carried out in school and results are obtained within a few days.  Reports are given out in school every couple of months so there are regular updates on student performance and achievements.


Compulsory Testing

Compulsory testing takes place in Grade 3, 6, 9 and 10.

Grade 3 and 6 are very similar to the SATS testing that is carried out in England and test literacy and numeracy skills. Kids are prepared for these and practice for them well in advance.

There is a different mentality here compared to England regarding testing and grades.  Informal tests occur regularly in class and most work is graded so there are no surprises, kids know how well they are doing even when they are very young.  They are given deadlines to complete work and are aware of the consequences if work isn’t completed on time.  This method seemed pretty harsh to me when I first saw it but it seems to prepare students for adulthood better than the English system where many schools are non-competitive.  After all the world is a competitive place so teaching kids to ‘suck it up’ and try their best is not a bad thing in my opinion.

In grade 9 there is a test of  numeracy skills. There are different versions of the test depending whether they are taking the applied or academic course

The OSSLT (Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test) is taken in grade 10, usually in March. It is a requirement to pass this test in order to receive the OSSD.


Further Information can be found at http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/




Newcomers Guide to the Ontario School System Part 2

Following on from my last post the Newcomers guide to the Ontario School System here is my 2nd installment.  Just to reiterate these are simply my observations as a Mum.

Transportation to school

Here in Canada the vast majority of children travel to school on the school bus.  You know those big yellow ones you see in films?


Here in the suburbs they drive around the streets picking the kids up and driving them to school.  For little ones in daycare they can often pick the kids up from daycare take them to school and drop them back there in the evening. Canada really likes to help the working work mum!  Once your child is registered in school you get issued a student number, this is all you need to book a place on the school bus.



The Structure of the School Day

Like most schools in the UK the school day is usually around 9am-3.30pm give or take.  Some schools provide before and after school care (another thing to help those working mums).  The amount of lessons and the length of them vary from school to school but a few things stay the same; Canadians like to snack so ‘snack time’ is part usually part of morning recess.  They also love their fresh air, so children go outside unless it’s raining hard or below -20C so kids must be dressed appropriately for the weather, whether it’s sun hats and sun screen or snow boots and thick coats.

Schools are equipped with PA systems, they announce important news in the morning, so very rarely send home letters.  They also play the national anthem every morning and have the children stand to listen to it.

Generally, Elementary schools don’t have a canteen so kids need to take a packed lunch and their snack.

It is usually only the Catholic schools that have a school uniform. Students dress casually, younger kids don’t always get changed for PE (Phys Ed/gym) so they need to wear suitable clothing.  They will also need a pair of indoor shoes that are left at school and are worn whilst inside the building. Trainers are ideal for this.

In Elementary schools homework is rarely given unless it is for a specific project and never given in the holidays, as ‘family time’ is deemed extremely important.



School Holidays

The school year starts in September on the Tuesday following the Labour day weekend and goes through to the end of June (around 27th). The year is divided into 2 semesters September to January and February to June.  At the end of January reports are issued and there are usually subject changes.

There are long weekends in October for Thanksgiving, February for Family day, Easter and Victoria Day in May.  There are two weeks holiday at Christmas and 10 days for March Break.

My boys really struggled with the change in the school year, they were so used to a break from school every 6 weeks when it came to several months between breaks they were exhausted.  9 weeks off in the summer really makes up for it though!


In my final part I will cover which subjects are taught and information particular to High schools

Newcomers Guide to the Ontario School System



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.


Admission Requirements

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

School Holidays