2022-03-07T12:23:54-05:00May 17, 2021|

The school system in Nova Scotia

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 Nova Scotia, here is what you need to know about navigating the school system and enrolling your child.

Looking for more information on schooling in Canada?
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 Nova Scotia 

In Nova Scotia, children aged five to 16-years-old must attend school. Schooling consists of elementary (also known as primary), junior high and senior high.

Grades range from Primary (called Kindergarten in other provinces) to Grade 12. Here’s a breakdown the types of schools in Nova Scotia:

1. Public English language schools in Nova Scotia

The public school system in Nova Scotia provides free education to over 115,000 students and is divided into seven public school districts. 

2. Francophone schools in Nova Scotia 

Nova Scotia has one francophone school board (Conseil scolaire acadien provincial) with 21 schools and more than 6,400 students. French-language education is available for students from Primary to grade 12. The criteria to enroll your child into a Francophone school is at least one parent must be a Canadian citizen one of the following criteria:

  • Their first language learned and still understood is French
  • Attended a French-language school in Canada
  • Their child has received or is receiving education in French in Canada

Children whose parents are landed immigrants or have a Francophone heritage may also be eligible to attend. You will need to submit an admission request which goes to a committee for review. 

French immersion programs are also available in Nova Scotia, where subjects are taught in French and English. The programs tend to fill up quickly, and there are often long wait times before a student will even be considered.

3. Private schools in Nova Scotia

While the majority of students go to a publicly-funded school, there are a small number of private schools that operate in the province. The difference is these schools operate as a business and you will have to pay for your child to attend. In Nova Scotia, private school education costs range greatly. You can expect to pay anywhere from $13,000 to $69,000 CAD per year. Parents generally choose a private school education for their child based on the school’s approach to learning, or for religious beliefs, such as Catholic faith. 

information icon  Information:
Nova Scotia’s public school system does not include a school board for Catholic schools. In this province, faith-based Catholic schools are privately run.

4. Homeschooling

A small number of parents in Nova Scotia opt out of both public and private schools and educate them at home, which is known as homeschooling. Parents who opt to homeschool their child are required to follow a government approved course. They also need to complete a registration form each year and provide a report to the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development in June on their childs’ progress. 

Early childhood education in Nova Scotia 

In Nova Scotia, 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 between three and five in a preschool setting. 

A pre-Primary program is also available for all families across Nova Scotia. This pre-primary education is free to access and parents need to register through their Regional Centre for Education or the Conseil scolaire acadien provincial. 

In addition, private preschool programs are also available in the province. Programs usually run in the morning or afternoon for between two and three hours and parents can expect to pay around $100-$200 CAD per month. 

Types of preschool programs in Nova Scotia 

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. 

Tips Icon  Tip:
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 or elementary school.

Grade structure and levels of education in Nova Scotia

Public education in Nova Scotia is divided into three levels: elementary school, junior high school, and senior high school. 


Grade schools in Nova Scotia operate from Primary (known as Kindergarten in other provinces) through to Grade 6. Children can enroll in full day primary 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 Nova Scotia from Grade 7 to 9. Generally, students begin at the age of 12-13 and finish at the age of 14-15. 

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 Nova Scotia 

In Nova Scotia, children are eligible to begin Primary the year they turn five. Nova Scotia’s different district school boards are responsible for creating the school boundaries and generally students can only attend a school in the area where they live. 

Information required to register your child for school:

  • Proof of age and identity, such as a birth certificate or passport
  • Proof of residency in the province, such as a utility bill or lease agreement (driver’s licence will not be accepted)
  • Proof of immigration status, such as Permanent Resident Card, Confirmation of Permanent Residence, or Record of Landing
  • Proof of immunization. 
  • Translation of school records or report cards, if available.

School aged children must be immunized against diseases before starting school. Consult the Nova Scotia routine immunization schedule to stay up-to-date on your child’s requirements. For more information, see Family Health 101: What newcomer’s should know.

Steps to enroll your child in a school in Nova Scotia:

  1. Verify your child’s home school.
  2. Visit the local school board corresponding to your catchment school to follow the directions to register your child online. 
  3. Fill in an application form which contains information about your child, home address, medical information, any shared custody arrangements, medical information, parent or guardian information, transportation requirements, and emergency contacts. 
  4. Provide proof of your child’s ID and proof of residency and copy of immunization record as part of your application. You may also be required to provide proof of medical insurance such as a provincial health card or private medical insurance (for example if applying to a school in Halifax). 
  5. For high school, your child will meet with a guidance counsellor to discuss their previous schooling and career goals. They will also help your child choose school courses. 

Tips Icon  Tip:
Provide new teachers with previous report cards to help them understand what your child has already learned.

If you need help, there are newcomer agencies in your area that can help you register your child for school or help you find an interpreter. 

School-related expenses 

While public education in Nova Scotia is free, there will still be some school-related expenses you should budget for. They include:

Before and after school programs

The Nova Scotia Before and After Program is available for children aged between four and 12 and are enrolled in the public education system. These fee-based programs are delivered at the school and usually run out of the school by third parties, such as the YMCA or Boys & Girls Clubs. The cost of these programs vary and are generally in the range of $15-$25 CAD per day. Parents may also be eligible to receive a child care subsidy

School supplies

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. Some schools may also provide assistive technology to students who require additional support (e.g. access to a Chromebook). 

School uniforms

While most public schools don’t have a school uniform, there may still be a dress code that describes what students may and may not wear to school. Typically, private schools do require a uniform and the cost varies. The school would provide information on where to purchase a uniform for your child. 


In Nova Scotia, school bus transportation is provided free of charge to elementary students who live at least 1.6 kilometres away from their school and to junior and high school students who live at least 2.4 kilometres away. Older students who live less than 2.4 kilometres away may be able to catch public transit to and from school, as required. In this case, you would need to factor the cost of public transit into your budget. 

Field trips 

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. 

School fundraisers

Fundraising is common in most Nova Scotian 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 varies, depending on your participating in events. 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 Nova Scotia’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!