When moving to a new country as a family, the schooling for your children is as important as finding employment and deciding where to settle. Fortunately, Canada is internationally ranked as a leader in education and there are plenty of educational opportunities for families. For newcomers to Alberta, here is what you need to know about navigating the school system and enrolling your child.
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See The newcomer guide to schooling in Canada for information on an overview of the types of school education in Canada, as well as how to enroll your child.
Types of schools in Alberta
Alberta has a reputation for having one of the best education systems in Canada. All children ages six to 16 must attend schooling or can study at home. Schools in the province consist of elementary (also known as primary), junior high (also known as middle school), and high school education. Grades range from Kindergarten, then Grade 1 to 12. Elementary school operates from Kindergarten to Grade 6, junior high schools from Grade 6 to 9, and high school from Grade 10 to 12. Here’s a breakdown the types of schools in Alberta:
1. Public schools in Alberta
The public school system in Alberta is responsible for the education of over 492,000 students. It is divided into 42 public school boards and four Francophone school boards. Students who live in Alberta can attend public schools free of charge.
Public English language schools
Public English language schools offer education to students from Kindergarten through to Grade 12. There is no fee to attend and schools are open to all students who live in the catchment area. The Calgary Board of Education is the largest school board in the province and teaches over 128,000 students.
Public French language schools
Alberta operates 35 public Francophone schools. These schools teach the curriculum primarily in French and are for students who speak French as their first language. The criteria to enrol your child into a French-language school is:
- At least one parent whose native language is French or fluent in French
- At least one parent attended a French-language school
- A child who received schooling in French as a first language
- A sibling who attended a French-language school in Canada
French Immersion programs are also available in the public school system. In a French Immersion school, subjects are taught in both French and English. The programs tend to fill up quickly, and there are often long wait times before a student will even be considered.
2. Catholic schools in Alberta
In Alberta, a faith-based Catholic education for elementary and secondary students is also available. Catholic schools have their own school boards. As the provincial government funds Catholic schools, there is no fee to attend. Admission requirements are open to students who are baptized as Roman Catholic and/or have at least one Roman Catholic parent or guardian. Students of other faiths may also be admitted to a Catholic school.
English-language Catholic schools
English-language Catholic schools offer education to students from Kindergarten through to Grade 12. The board is the Calgary Catholic School Board, which operates 118 schools and educates 56,000 students.
French-language Catholic schools
There are also some Francophone Catholic schools in Alberta for students who have one or more parents who are Francophone and Catholic. In addition, some Catholic schools provide a French Immersion program.
3. Private and independent schools in Alberta
While the majority of students go to a publicly-funded school, Alberta has more than 180 private schools across the province. The difference is these schools operate as a business and you will have to pay for your child to attend. Registered private schools are not required to teach the Alberta curriculum or use certified teachers. However, the province also has accredited funded private schools that receive a government grant. These schools must follow the curriculum and hire certified teachers and principals.
The cost of private school education in Alberta ranges greatly. You can expect to pay anywhere from $5,000 to $50,000 CAD per year. It is common for private schools to allocate funds for scholarships and bursaries for students. Parents generally choose a private school education for their child based on the school’s approach to learning, for religious beliefs, to accommodate their child’s special needs, or to receive an advanced academics program.
A very small fraction of parents in Alberta opt their children out of both public and private schools and educate them at home, which is known as homeschooling. Every year, parents are responsible for notifying the Minister of Education of their intent to homeschool their child. In Alberta, parents or guardians can choose from two homeschooling programs:
- Supervised by school authority: A home education program that is supervised by a willing public or separate school board or accredited private school. Parents who enrol in this option are eligible for funding from Alberta Education.
- Not supervised by school authority: This is a home education program that will not be supervised by a school board or accredited private school. Therefore parents are not eligible for funding from Alberta Education.
Early childhood education in Alberta
In Alberta, children begin schooling at the age of five. Before then, early childhood education (ECE) is available. This age-appropriate, play-based learning is usually provided to children aged as young as two years and eight months to five years old. Alberta is the only province in Canada that funds education support for ECE.
Pre-Kindergarten is for children who require additional support to prepare them for Kindergarten and Grade 1. This includes children who are:
- Learning English as a second language
- Requiring Francophone programming
- Diagnosed with a learning disability or a language delay
Children may begin at the age of three years and eight months. To take advantage of the program, contact your local school board for more information.
In addition, there are private preschools that run morning and afternoon preschool and junior kindergarten classes for children aged three to five. As these are businesses, parents can expect to pay around $215 – $675 CAD a month for a licensed preschool program.
Types of preschool programs in Alberta
When it comes to choosing a preschool program, look for one with Registered Early Childhood Educators (RECEs), and ask to drop in for a visit. Here are some types of preschools available:
- Local community or non-profit co-operative schools: These are usually the least expensive as parents work voluntarily as teachers’ aides alongside professional teachers.
- Religious schools: Usually attached to religious institutions and may include religious education (it isn’t essential for children to follow the same religion as the school).
- Private schools: These are most expensive and vary considerably from small home-run set-ups to large custom-built schools.
- Montessori schools: Montessori is more of a philosophy of life than a teaching method.
Early education might be a good option for families who don’t have English or French as their first language as it will help the child learn these languages prior to starting Kindergarten.
Grade structure and levels of education in Alberta
Public education in Alberta is divided into three levels: elementary school, junior high school, and senior high school.
Grade schools operate from Kindergarten through to Grade 6. Children can enroll in full day kindergarten the year they turn five. Generally, students graduate grade school at the age of 11-12.
Junior High School
Junior High School (also known as “middle school”) operates in Alberta from Grade 7 to 9. Generally, students begin at the age of 12-13 and finish at the age of 14-15. There are 29 Junior high Schools in Calgary, 10 in Edmonton, and a further 10 across the rest of the province.
Senior High School
Senior High School operates from Grade 10 to 12. Students begin at the age of 15-16 and graduate at the age of 17-18. In order to graduate, all students must meet the provincial graduation requirements. After completing secondary school, they can apply to go to college, university, some other vocational training (such as a trade), or work.
How to enroll your kids into school in Alberta
In Alberta, children are eligible to begin Kindergarten the year they turn five, although attendance isn’t mandatory until a child is six-years-old. To attend school from Grades 1 to 12, students must be Canadian citizens, permanent or temporary residents. If your child is a Canadian citizen, you can register directly at their local school. Otherwise, depending on where you settle in Alberta, you may be required to contact the Welcome Centre at your school board and register there.
Information required to register your child for school:
- Proof of age, such as a birth certificate or passport
- Proof of resident status such as Permanent Resident Card, Confirmation of Permanent Residence, or Record of Landing.
- Proof of home address, such as a utility bill, copy of lease, bank statement, driver’s licence
Steps to enroll your child in a school in Alberta:
- Visit the local school board corresponding to your catchment school to follow the directions to register your child online.
- Students going to school in Calgary who are not Canadian citizens will have to register at a Welcome Centre.
- Complete an application form. It contains questions about your child, home address, parent contact, school history, citizenship status, emergency contact and any health considerations.
- Provide proof of your child’s ID, proof of residency and proof of home address as part of your application.
- For high school, your child should meet with a guidance counsellor to discuss their previous schooling and career goals. They will also help your child choose school courses.
Provide new teachers or an assessment centre with previous report cards to help them understand what your child has already learned.
In Alberta, you do not have to show proof of vaccinations to enrol your child in school.
If you need help, there are newcomer agencies in your area that can help you register your child for school.
While public education in Alberta is free, there will still be some school-related expenses you should budget for. They include:
Before and after school programs
Before and after school programs are available for students from Kindergarten to Grade 6. They are usually run by third party operators such as the Boys and Girls Clubs or YMCA, or a private operator. Program fees are generally in the range of $29-$50 CAD per day. However, there are waiting lists for many before and after school programs.
Children are usually required to bring basic stationary school supplies when they start a new grade or school year. Typically, schools will provide a list of required items (e.g. pencils, pencil crayons, sharpener, ruler, calculator, glue stick). You may also have to purchase a lunchbox, water bottle, backpack, and gym shoes for your child. Textbooks are provided by the school for free and are returned at the end of the semester or school year.
While most public schools don’t have a school uniform, some public schools in Alberta are adopting a school uniform. Typically, private schools and Catholic schools also require a uniform and the cost for this varies.
Many areas in Alberta provide transportation options such as school buses. However, it’s usually only available for students who live more than 2.4 kilometres away from their school. School boards in Alberta can charge parents an annual fee for children to ride the school bus. This can be as much as $515 CAD per school year, depending on the school board.
Field trips are often organized by schools for students to visit places that are relevant to their education. They include places such as museums, cultural institutions, and outdoor activities. There is usually a cost involved in participating. Older children may also have the opportunity to participate in overnight camps or trips away with the school and there will be a cost involved to cover transportation and accommodation. The school may be able to provide financial support for parents who require it.
Fundraising is common in most Alberta Schools. Typical fundraising activities include pizza lunches, book fairs, bake sales, or holiday gift sales. The amount parents could expect to spend over a school year on fundraising activities ranges from $25 to $50 CAD. The money raised is usually used to fund school trips, purchase new technology or add learning resources.
It’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with Alberta’s education system before settling in the province. That way you’ll be aware of your school choices, have the right paperwork ready and set your child on a path to success!