Understanding the school system

All children living in Canada are entitled to a free elementary and secondary school education. Children usually begin elementary school when they are 4 or 5 years old. They start in Kindergarten. They then move on to grade 1, and finish elementary school in grade 8. They then go to secondary school, which is also called high school. In most regions of Canada, high school includes grades 9 to 12. After high school, children may continue with post-secondary education at a college or university. Post-secondary education is not free in Canada.

At the elementary and secondary levels, there are public schools and private schools. Public schools are funded by the government. They include Catholic schools, Christian schools, and non-religious schools. If you send your child to a public school, you will not have to pay for their education. If you send your child to a private school, you will have to pay tuition.

A row of books on a shelf.

Registering your child for school

To register your child in elementary or secondary school, you will need to provide proof of your child’s age and your current address. Some schools will want to test your child’s math and English language skills to see if extra support would be helpful. To begin the registration process, contact your local school.

A backpack with a Canadian flag, pens and notebooks sticking out of it.

What to expect

In Canada, the school year begins in September and ends in June. Your child will attend school Monday to Friday, except on holidays. If you arrive in Canada in the middle of the school year, do not worry. Your child will still be welcome to begin school.

In elementary school, your child will study basic reading, writing, mathematics, social studies, science, health, physical education and the arts. These are referred to as core subjects. In secondary school, your child will continue to study these core subjects. Your child will also prepare for college or university. If your child has special interests or wants to prepare for a specific career, he or she can explore other subjects, too.

Your child can also participate in after-school or lunch-time activities, such as team sports, science, music and drama clubs. Participating in these activities will help them when they apply to a college or university.

Twice a year, teachers prepare report cards for parents. These include your child’s school grades to help you understand how they are doing in school.