All publicly-funded schools in Ontario are separated into four basic systems – English Catholic, English public, French Catholic and French public. All four of these systems are organized the same way. They are run by school boards and share the same standards for teacher and student performance.
Catholic schools incorporate Catholic beliefs into the student’s daily lifestyle. In addition to including theology in their curriculum, Catholic schools have prayers in the classroom, school masses, and involvement with the local Catholic community. Public schools do not endorse the teachings of any religion and do not mix religious practice with the students’ daily lives. Since Canada has two official languages, Ontario offers Catholic and public school systems in both English and French. This means that there are four types of publicly funded schools in Ontario.
Also known as grade school or primary school, an elementary school usually offers classes ranging from Junior Kindergarten through to Grade 8. Most students in Ontario begin attending elementary school between the ages of four and five years old, but they are not required by law to do so until age six. Children can begin school in Junior Kindergarten in September of the calendar year in which they turn four. Since the cutoff date in Ontario is December 31, this means that children can actually begin school in Junior Kindergarten when they are three years and eight months old. The next level up from Junior Kindergarten is Kindergarten. Following Kindergarten, students advance through grades 1 to 8. During this time, they are taught according to a standard, province-wide curriculum. Upon successful completion of Grade 8 (which generally occurs at thirteen or fourteen years of age), the student advances to secondary school.
Also known as high school, a secondary school usually offers classes from Grade 9 to Grade 12. Most secondary schools split the academic year into two halves. Each of these halves is referred to as a semester. In one semester, students enroll in an average of four courses. In a non-semestered school, students enroll in an average of eight courses. Upon the successful completion of a course, students are awarded a credit. In order to graduate from secondary school, students must meet the criteria outlined by Ontario’s secondary school curriculum policy. This requires that students complete at least thirty credits of which 18 are deemed compulsory. Students are also required to pass a literacy assessment and participate in 40 hours of community service in order to gain a secondary school diploma.
There is considerable variation in the way elementary and secondary schools are organized across the province. It is not uncommon to have some elementary schools that offer classes only up to Grade 6. Students who graduate from these schools will often go to Junior High School for grades 7-9, and then high school for grades 10-12. In some cases and more often in French language schools, students go from Grade 6 to a school that offers grades 7-12 . Other than the way they are organized, these schools do not do anything differently than more traditional elementary and secondary schools.
Some English language schools offer programs in which the language of instruction is French. These programs are known as French Immersion. Some schools may offer both a regular English program and a French Immersion program.
Other schools, known as specialty schools, emphasize specific subject areas such as the arts or the sciences, and are geared towards students who have strengths in these particular areas. Some specialty schools offer extensive programs in technological studies and aim to prepare students for employment.
Ontario also has a number of alternative schools. These are usually small schools, with a low teacher to student ratio, which have a different approach to curriculum delivery from mainstream schooling. Alternative schools often have high parent involvement. At the secondary level, they tend to focus on independent learning and assist students who have not been successful in regular schools.
Since some students have special needs that require additional support, Ontario offers a number of special education services. Candidates for special education services are identified through an Identification, Placement and Review Committee (IPRC). Students who qualify for special education services include children who have behavioural or communication disorders, children who have intellectual, physical or multiple disabilities, and children who are of high intelligence (often called gifted students). Students with special needs receive individual support and often work within a program that is more individually designed to meet their needs. Some of these students receive special support within a regular classroom, while others are taught individually, outside of the regular classroom. Still others are grouped in special classes with students who have similar needs. These individual decisions are made by the school or board, in consultation and partnership with parents, according to a student’s specific learning needs.
For more detailed information on Special Education in Ontario, please click here.