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 British Columbia (B.C.), 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 British Columbia 

In British Columbia, 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) and secondary (also known as high school) education. Grades range from 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 B.C.: 

1. Public schools in B.C.

The public school system in B.C. is responsible for the education of 553,000 students. It is divided into 60 district school boards. Students who live in B.C. permanently 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. With 125 schools, Surrey Schools is the largest school district in B.C. 

Public French language school

B.C. operates 45 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 enroll 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 in Canada
  • A sibling who attended a French-language school in Canada 

Consideration will also be given to students if a grandparent’s native language is French, or they attended a French-language school. If you don’t meet these criteria, you can still submit an application to a French-language school for review. 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 B.C.

While faith-based Catholic education is available for students in B.C., they do not receive funding from the provincial government and Catholic schools are run privately. There are 79 Catholic schools across the province that provide religious and moral teaching and the values of the church. Preference is given to students of Catholic families first and waiting lists for admissions vary, depending on the school. Catholic schools are required to meet the Ministry of Education curriculum requirements and all teachers are certified. Parents must pay for their child to attend a Catholic school. Tuition rates can range from $275 to $370 CAD per month. 

3. Private and independent schools in B.C. 

While the majority of students in B.C. go to a publicly-funded school, there are a large number of private and independent 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. The Ministry of Education inspects and regulates private schools, and some private schools qualify for partial provincial government funding. 

The cost of private school education in B.C. range greatly. You can expect to pay anywhere from $4,000 to $80,000 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.

4. Homeschooling

A very small fraction of parents in B.C. opt their children out of both public and private schools and educate them at home, which is known as homeschooling. The Ministry of Education has drafted a homeschooling procedure and guidelines manual for parents. Kids have to be a Registered Homeschooler and high school students in Grades 10-12 have the option to participate in the Provincial Graduation Assessment and foundation Skills Assessments. 

Early childhood education in British Columbia 

In B.C., 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 to help them prepare for school. Many schools in B.C. offer free programs to help kids learn. 

  • StrongStart BC: This is a free program for children up to five-years-old. Parents join their kids in drop-in programs that offer stories, music and art designed to prepare them for Kindergarten. 
  • Ready, Set, Learn: Provides families with information on how to support their young child’s learning. Visit their website to see if there’s a local grade school that holds Ready, Set, Learn events for kids aged three to five. 

In addition, there are private preschools that run morning, afternoon or full day (up to four hours) preschool classes for children aged 30 months to school age. As these are businesses, parents can expect to pay around $750 CAD a month for a licensed full-day preschool program. 

Types of preschool programs in British Columbia

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.

Grade structure and levels of education in British Columbia

Public education in B.C. is divided into elementary schools and secondary schools. 

Elementary 

Grade schools operate from Kindergarten through to Grade 8. Children can enroll in full day kindergarten the year they turn five. Generally, students graduate grade school at the age of 13. In districts where there are a large number of students aged 11 to 13 are enrolled in elementary school, they may attend a Middle School (Grades 6 to 8) instead. 

Secondary 

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. Upon graduation, students will receive a graduation certificate. 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 British Columbia

In B.C., children are eligible to begin Kindergarten the year they turn five, although attendance isn’t mandatory until a child is six-years-old. If you settle in Vancouver, students who were not born in Canada or are in Grade 1 to 12 and do not speak English as their home language are required to register at the Newcomer Welcome Centre. Otherwise, enrollment is through the local school.

B.C. different district school boards are responsible for creating the school catchment areas and generally students can only attend a school in the area where they live. You can use the B.C. School Locator Tool to find the closest school in your catchment area. 

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
  • Immunization record

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

  1. You can use the B.C. School Locator Tool to find the closest school in your catchment area. 
  2. Visit the local school board corresponding to your catchment school to follow the directions to register your child online. 
  3. Students going to school in Vancouver who were not born in Canada or do not speak English as their home language will have to register at the Newcomer Welcome Centre
  4. Complete an application form. It contains questions about your child, home address, parent contact, emergency contact and any health considerations.
  5. Provide proof of your child’s ID, proof of residency, proof of home address, and copy of immunization record as part of your application. 
  6. 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. 

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. 

School-related expenses 

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

Before and after school programs

Recent legislation in B.C. means that local school boards can operate before and after school programs for students. In addition, third party operators such as the Boys and Girls Clubs or YMCA, also operate programs for kids aged five to 12. Program fees are generally in the range of $25-$40 CAD per day. However, affordable child care benefits may be available.

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 educational 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. 

Transport

Many areas in B.C. provide transportation options such as school buses. However, it’s usually only available for students who live between three and five kilometres (depending on whether they are in elementary or high school). School boards in B.C. can charge parents an annual fee for children to ride the school bus. This can be anywhere from $25 to $250 CAD per school year, depending on the 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 B.C. 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 B.C.’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!

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Disclaimer:
This article offers general information only and is not intended as legal, financial or other professional advice. A professional advisor should be consulted regarding your specific situation. While information presented is believed to be factual and current, its accuracy is not guaranteed and it should not be regarded as a complete analysis of the subjects discussed. All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the author(s) as of the date of publication and are subject to change. No endorsement of any third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products or services is expressly given or implied by Royal Bank of Canada or its affiliates.