2022-03-07T12:27:07-05:00Apr 28, 2021|

The school system in Ontario

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 Ontario, 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 Ontario 

In Ontario, children aged six to 18-years-old must attend school. Schooling consists of elementary (also known as primary) and secondary education. Grades range from junior Kindergarten to Grade 12. Elementary school operates from Kindergarten to Grade 8 and secondary schools from Grades 9 to 12. Here’s a breakdown the types of schools in Ontario: 

1. Public schools in Ontario

The public school system in Ontario is responsible for the education of two million Canadians. It is broken down into various district school boards. There are around 1.4 million students who attend Ontario’s 4,000 publicly funded elementary schools and approximately 700,000 students attend more than 850 secondary schools. 

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. There are 31 public English language school boards in Ontario, including the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) which is the largest school board in Canada. 

Public French language schools

Ontario has four public French-language school boards that operate 136 elementary and high schools. The public French-language system has a mandate to protect, enhance and transmit the French language and culture. These schools teach the Ontario education curriculum exclusively in French. The criteria to enroll your child into a French-language school is:

  • At least one parent whose native language is French
  • At least one parent attended a French-language school in Canada
  • A sibling who attended a French-language school in Canada 

If you don’t meet these criteria, you can still submit an application to a French-language school, which would be reviewed by the local school board. 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 Ontario

In Ontario, a faith-based Catholic education for elementary and secondary students is also available. Catholic schools have their own school boards independent of Ontario’s other public 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. There are 29 Catholic English language school boards in Ontario, educating over 575,000 students. It includes the Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB), which is the largest publicly funded Catholic school board in the world. 

French-language Catholic schools

There are also eight French-language Catholic school boards in Ontario that offer education primarily in French-language to students who have one or more parents who are Francophone and Catholic. Secondary school students may also admit students with strong French-language skills who did not attend a primary French-language Catholic school. 

3. Private schools in Ontario

While the majority of students in Ontario go to a publicly-funded school, there are a large 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. Private schools are independent of the Ministry of Education in Ontario, however, they are required to follow the Ontario curriculum. In Ontario, private school education costs range greatly. You can expect to pay anywhere from $4,000 to $80,000 CAD per year. Parents generally choose a private school education for their child based on the school’s approach to learning, for religious beliefs, or to send their child to a same-sex school.

4. Homeschooling

A very small fraction of parents in Ontario opt their children out of both public and private schools and educate them at home, which is known as homeschooling. Parents have the option for their children to take the EQAO (the Education Quality and Accountability Office) tests in Grades 3, 6 and 9, as well as the Grade 10 literacy test at no cost. More information on homeschooling policies in Ontario is available from the Ministry of Education. 

Tips Icon  Tip:
Parents can learn more about the Ontario education system by reading The Newcomers’ Guide to Elementary School and The Newcomers’ Guide to Secondary School. The guides offer helpful information on registration, attendance boundaries, learning English as a second language, as well as the Ontario curriculum.

Early childhood education in Ontario 

In Ontario, children begin schooling at the age of four. 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. However, some preschools may also admit toddlers as young as 18-months-old. Early childhood education in Ontario is not free, and parents can expect to pay between $400 and $1,300 CAD a month. Children usually attend a morning or afternoon program that lasts for two to three hours. 

Types of preschool programs in Ontario 

In Ontario, early childhood programs are regulated by the provincial government. 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 in Ontario: 

  • 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. Some Montessori schools have preschool (for children aged two and a half to six years) and elementary levels (ages six to 12).

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 Ontario

Public education in Ontario is divided into elementary schools and secondary schools. 


Grade schools operate from Junior Kindergarten through to Grade 8. Children can enroll in full day kindergarten from the age of four-years-old. Generally, students graduate grade school at the age of 13.


Secondary schools, also known as “high school,” operate from Grades 9 to 12. Generally, students begin high school at age 14 and graduate at 18. In order to graduate, students must meet the provincial high school requirements. Upon graduation, students will receive a high school diploma. 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 Ontario 

In Ontario, children are eligible to begin junior kindergarten the year they turn four, although attendance isn’t mandatory until a child is six-years-old. Ontario’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. Sometimes schools will admit children from outside the area, depending on the number of students already enrolled.  

Information required to register your child for school:

  • Proof of age, such as a birth certificate or passport
  • Proof of home address, such as a utility bill, copy of lease, or bank statement
  • Proof of guardianship, if your child is not living with a parent
  • Immunization record
  • Proof of immigration status, such as Permanent Resident Card, Confirmation of Permanent Residence, or Record of Landing.

information icon  Note:
The Education Act in Ontario states that all children aged six to 18 can attend school, regardless of their immigration status or the immigration status of their parents.

School aged children must be immunized against diseases before starting school. Consult the Ontario 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 Ontario:

  1. Visit the Ontario government’s school information finder to see which elementary and high schools are located in your area. 
  2. Visit your local school board to follow the directions to register your child online. 
  3. Families who are permanent residents or are registering a child in Grades 1 through 12 may be asked to contact the school to complete your registration.
  4. Fill in an application form which contains information about your child, home address, general student information, health factors, and emergency contacts. 
  5. Provide proof of your child’s ID, proof of residency and copy of immunization record as part of your application. 
  6. If you are a newcomer to Canada and enrolling your child in high school, you may be required to get an assessment or visit a reception centre where their English-language and math skills are tested. 
  7. 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 or an assessment centre with previous report cards to help them understand what your child has already learned.

If you need help, there are community 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 Ontario is free, there will still be some school-related expenses you should budget for. They include:

Before and after school programs

In Ontario, school boards are required to offer before and after school programs for children aged between four and 12 where there is sufficient demand. They may be operated by third parties, such as the local YMCA. The cost of these programs vary. In Toronto, program fees are generally in the range of $29-$38 CAD per day. However, child care subsidies may be available. Parents are required to apply for the subsidy through their local municipal service systems manager

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 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. Catholic high schools in Ontario also require their students to wear a uniform, which you are expected to pay for. The local school board would provide information on where to purchase a uniform for your child. 


Many areas in Ontario provide transportation options such as school buses. However, it may only be available if you live a certain distance away from the school, typically over three kilometres. The school bus is normally free of charge. 

Depending on where you live, students in high school may be expected to catch public transit to travel to and from school. In this case, you would need to factor the cost of public transit into your budget. Students in Grades 9 to 12 may be eligible for assistance with the costs of public transit by the local school board. 

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 Ontario 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 $45 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 Ontario’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!