Elementary and secondary education

Adult secondary education

Adults who haven’t completed elementary or secondary education can take adult education programs. Some teach how to read and write and others get you a high school diploma. Contact the ministry or department of education in the province or territory where you live for more information.

By law, children must go to school. Depending on the province or territory, children may start at the age of 5 or 6 and continue until they are between 16 and 18.

Students go from primary to secondary school between grades 6 and 8, depending on the province or territory. Students who successfully complete secondary school get a high school diploma.

The school year usually begins at the end of August and finishes toward the end of June. Children go to school from Monday to Friday during the school year (except during holidays). If you and your family arrive in Canada during the school year, contact your local school board to find a place for your children.

Since Canada is a bilingual country, English-language and French-language schools are available across the country (even in areas where one language is more commonly spoken than the other).

You should contact the ministry or department of education of the province or territory in which you will be living to learn more about English-language and French-language education options that may be available to you.

It is up to parents to choose the type of schooling for their children. Parents can choose to send their children to free public schools or pay to send them to private schools. In many areas, parents can choose between English and French school options. Parents also have the right to educate children at home, rather than in a school. For more information, contact the ministry responsible for education in your province or territory.

School boards

School boards (sometimes called school districts, school divisions or district education councils) manage the schools within a certain local area. School boards are responsible for things like:

  • administration;
  • facilities;
  • personnel; and
  • student enrolment.

The public elects the people who run a school board (called trustees). They hold regular meetings where members of the public can express their views on how schools in their area are managed.

Enrolling in school

To enrol your child in elementary or high school, contact your local school board. Since school boards usually manage many schools, you may be able to choose the school that your children will go to.

To get into the school you prefer, make sure to enrol them well before the school year begins.

If you’re enrolling your children in a Canadian school for the first time, the school or school board will:

  • assess them
  • decide:
    • what level they should be placed at
    • whether they need free support such as English or French language classes

There are also settlement workers in many schools who can help.

You can find out more about elementary and high schools in Canada on the Canadian Information Centre for International Credentials (CICIC) website.

Getting involved in your child’s education

Parents are encouraged to support their child’s education by getting involved with the school and school board. This is an opportunity to meet people, become part of the school community and express your opinions on what is taught in your child’s school. You can get involved by:

  • volunteering at your child’s school
  • meeting your child’s teacher at parent-teacher evenings
  • becoming a member of the school council

Ask the school for more information on how you can get involved.

Government ministries in charge of elementary and secondary education by province and territory


Newcomer services in your area

Education video

This video offers information about:

  • English language classes
  • Translation and evaluation of your previous education
  • Enrolling your children in school

To watch the video, select your language and the topic “Education”.

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