Education in Ontario

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Education in Canada
Educational oversight
Minister of Education : Mitzie Hunter
Advanced Education and Skills Development: Deb Matthews
National education budget (2012–2013)
Budget CAN$ 21 billion[1]
General details
Primary languages English, French
System type Regional school boards shares power with provincial government
Male 99%[2]
Female 99%[2]
Total 2,051,865 (2010–2011)[3]
Primary 1,340,520 (2010–2011)[3]
Secondary 711,134 (2010–2011)[3]
Post secondary 760,731 (2010–2011)[4]
Secondary diploma 79.4%[5]
Post-secondary diploma 55%[5]

Education in Ontario comprises public and private primary and secondary schools and post-secondary institutions. By right of the constitution of Canada, Roman Catholics are entitled to their own school system.[6] Ontario's school boards are divided among four large separate publicly funded school systems: 31 English public, 29 English Catholic, four French public, and eight French Catholic.[1] One non-Roman Catholic separate school board, the Penetanguishene Protestant Separate School Board operates in Penetanguishene, Ontario.[7] Post-secondary education in Ontario consists of 20 public universities, 24 public colleges and over 400 registered private career colleges.[8]

In Canada, education falls entirely under provincial jurisdiction. There is no federal government department or agency involved in the formation or analysis of policy regarding education. Publicly funded elementary and secondary schools are administered by the Ontario Ministry of Education, while colleges and universities are administered by the Ontario Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development. The current Minister of Education is Mitzie Hunter, and the current minister of Advanced Education and Skills Development is Deb Matthews.


Upper Canada's Grammar School Act of 1807 provided the first public funds for schools in what would become Ontario. 8 schools were opened.[9]

1816: The Act of 1816 authorized local trustees to decide on hiring criteria for teachers.[10]

1823: A General Board of Education was established.[11]

1824: The Legislature supported "moral and religious instruction of the more indigent and remote settlements" by granting the Board of Education a budget to create Sunday schools.[12]

1824: The right to decide hiring criteria for teachers was transferred from trustees to the district Board.[12]

1841: With the union of Upper and Lower Canada into the Province of Canada, the position of General Superintendent of Education was created.[12]

1843: With the realization that Canada West (formerly Upper Canada) and Canada East (formerly Lower Canada) had vastly different educational needs, the Act of 1841 was repealed. The Act of 1843 created the position of Chief Superintendent of Education for Canada West (which would become the Province of Ontario in 1867).[13] Egerton Ryerson is Chief Superintendent from 1844 until his retirement in 1876.[14]

1847: Chief Superintendent Egerton Ryerson returns from a tour of European education systems and submits his "Report on a System of Public Elementary Instruction in Upper Canada".[15] On the religious issue, he writes that "religious differences and divisions should rather be healed than inflamed".[15]:p62

1876: The first Minister of Education was appointed,[12] after Ryerson retired after 22 years as Chief Superintendent of Education.

1968: Release of the Hall-Dennis Report, officially titled Living and Learning.

1984: Grade 13 is replaced by OAC (Ontario Academic Credits)

1997: Education funding moves to the provincial level.[16]

2003: High school becomes a 4-year program, with the phasing out of OAC.

2013: Release of the Fullan Report, officially titled Great to Excellent.[17]


Education in Ontario is governed by the Education Act.[18] Provincial, federal and international human rights codes and charters also have stipulations on children's learning experiences.

Education Act[edit]


0.1(1) Public education is vital.

0.1(2) The purpose of education is to help students reach their full potential while becoming caring, contributing citizens.

0.1(3) All partners in the education sector have a role to play. Partners include the Minister, the Ministry, and the boards.


1(1) of the Education Act defines bullying as behaviour within a power imbalance that creates harm, fear, distress or a negative environment. The Act specifies that it only counts as bullying if it is done by a pupil.

Learning options[edit]

The following sections of the Education Act are related to learning options:

1(1) defines the following terms related to learning options:

  • Equivalent learning: Any nontraditional learning environment in which progress can be evaluated, which has been approved.[19]
  • Exceptional pupil: Any pupil considered in need of a special education program.

8(1)-3: The Minister of Education may approve, or allow boards to approve, courses of study that are not based on the curriculum guidelines, to be used in lieu of prescribed courses.

8(1)-3.0.1 Equivalent learning policies, guidelines and standards may be established by the Minister of Education. The Minister may require that boards offer equivalent learning opportunities. The Minister may designate entities who may offer equivalent learning within a board.[20]

8(1)-6 The Minister may decide which learning materials can or can't be used.

8(1)-14 The Minister may approve anyone as a teacher, regardless of official qualifications, if the candidate is considered to have equivalent experience.

8(2) Equivalent learning must not be of lesser educational value than traditional learning.[21]

8(3) Everyone qualifying for special education programs shall get them. Identification of special needs shall be early and ongoing.

10 The Minister may establish an advisory body or commission of inquiry at any time.

13(5) The Minister may establish demonstration schools.

21(2) Compulsory attendance is excused if the person is receiving satisfactory instruction at home or elsewhere.

21(5) Parents are legally liable for their children obeying compulsory schooling laws, unless the child has turned 16 and has withdrawn from parental controls.

41(2) A child may be admitted to secondary school if the principal believes the child is prepared, regardless of having attended elementary school.

41(5) Students who have demonstrated to their principal that they are not competent in a course or program of study must change program, or take a prerequisite.

55 The Minister may regulate having student trustees on school boards, representing students in grades 9-12. A student trustee's vote doesn't count.

57(3) A Special Education Tribunal is available if a parent wishes to appeal a decision regarding special education for their child.[22]

57.1(1) Every board shall have a special education advisory committee.

169.1(1)(c) Boards shall provide every student with an effective and appropriate education program.

170.1-7.3 Boards shall provide equivalent learning opportunities to their pupils.

218.1(d) Board members shall bring concerns of parents, students and supporters to the attention of the board.

218.1(g) Board members shall maintain focus on student achievement and well-being.


264(1)(c) Teachers (meaning members of the Ontario College of Teachers) must "inculcate by precept and example respect for religion and the principles of Judaeo-Christian morality and the highest regard for truth, justice, loyalty, love of country, humanity, benevolence, sobriety, industry, frugality, purity, temperance and all other virtues."


8(1)29.3 The Minister may regulate the nutritional content of school food.


8.1 regulates the collection and use of personal information. Education data is used to plan and evaluate programs.

Human rights legislation affecting education in Ontario[edit]

Ontario Human Rights Code[edit]

A child's educational experience is informed by the following provisions of the Ontario Human Rights Code:

The Preamble says that "it is public policy in Ontario to recognize the dignity and worth of every person and to provide for equal rights and opportunities without discrimination that is contrary to law, and having as its aim the creation of a climate of understanding and mutual respect for the dignity and worth of each person so that each person feels a part of the community and able to contribute fully to the development and well-being of the community and the Province".[23]

Section 1 says that everyone has the right to equal treatment with respect to such things as services and facilities.

Section 19(2) says that the Code does not apply to the duties of teachers as they fulfill their requirements in the Education Act.

Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms[edit]

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms does not necessarily restrict how children can be treated under the Education Act, because Section 1 allows for restrictions on the Charter's application "as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society."[24] For example, compulsory schooling laws can override a child's right to freedom of association.

United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child[edit]

The Convention on the Rights of the Child is a legally binding treaty with provisions on children's education. In particular, article 3(1) mandates that states act in the best interest of the child.[25]

Article 12(1) mandates that children be able to have input on all matters that effect them. Their input will have "due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child."

Article 28 and 29 mandate free, compulsory primary education, including:

  • the full development of the child
  • respect for human rights and freedoms
  • respect for the child's parents, the child's cultural identity, country, and respect for other civilizations around the world

Structure and funding[edit]

Types of school boards[edit]

Ontario operates four publicly funded school systems: An English-language public school system, a French-language public school system, an English- language separate school system and a French-language separate school system. The public school system was originally Protestant but is now secular. The Separate School system is Roman Catholic (open to students of all faiths at secondary level, they have the option of refusing non-Catholics at the elementary level[citation needed]) with the exception of the Penetanguishene Protestant Separate School Board which runs a single Protestant school.

School Board Funding Projections (excluding capital programs) estimates more than twenty billion dollars will be put toward the province's 73 school board districts in the 2012-2013 school-year.[26]

Levels in education[edit]

Preschool daycare is usually for youngsters under 4 years of age. Next comes Junior Kindergarten/J.K (for youngsters who turn 4 before Dec 31) and Senior Kindergarten/S.K (for youngsters who turn 5 before Dec 31)

Ministry of Education documents divide grades into two categories: Elementary (Grades 1-8) and Secondary (Grades 9-12, also called High School). Local variances exist in the division of grades (e.g. middle school).[27]

While children must begin school if they are 6 years old on the first day of the school year,[28] the cutoff is Dec 31st:[29] A 5-year-old may start Grade 1 if he/she will turn 6 by Dec 31st. Children typically start a grade if they will be the following age by Dec 31st:

Grade 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
Age 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17

There is no legal age or time constraint against attending secondary school longer than 4 years, although a limit on course credit exists. Victory lappers make up an average of 4% of all students enrolled in Ontario secondary schools each year.[30][31]

Multi-age settings[edit]

Split-grade classes are common.[32]

A pilot project groups math students by ability rather than age.[citation needed]

Montessori schools group students in 3-year age groups. Democratic schools have complete age-mixing.[33] Homeschooling families and unschoolers decide for themselves about age-mixing.

Roots of Empathy brings a baby into an elementary school classroom, regularly over the course of a year, to help students develop social/emotional competence and empathy.

Curriculum-based schools[edit]

Almost all Ontario public schools, and most private schools, follow the Ontario Curriculum.[34] It has specific requirements about knowledge and behaviours to be learned, while allowing flexibility in how the curriculum is delivered.

The secondary school curriculum offers three streams (or tracks): the Grades 9 and 10 curricula have the academic, applied and essentials streams. The academic courses are to prepare students for university-bound courses; the applied courses are to prepare students for college-bound courses; and the essentials courses are mainly for students, but not exclusively, with learning exceptionalities (e.g., learning disabilities, intellectually delayed, etc.). Recently, there have been parents and educational advocates pushing for de-streaming Grades 9 and 10, so students have more time to choose which pathway they would like to take.

Then the Grades 11 and 12 curricula have university-bound, college-bound and workplace-bound courses. All of the courses are to develop students' higher-order thinking skills, and every secondary school course must have a focus on skills-based learning no matter the stream; however, academic/university-bound courses tend to have a strong focus on abstract thinking and knowledge-based learning, and usually pushes students to become more independent in their learning compared with college- and workplace-bound courses. Once a student is taking a Grade 12 university-bound course, then the student is expected to be academically and intellectually challenged in order for them to build their knowledge and skills for a university post-secondary education. Even though college-bound courses are academically rigorous, there is more of a focus on skills-based learning and making the content of the course practical for everyday life. Workplace-bound courses are even more practical. Each stream has different learning expectations, so marks in each stream are not equal to one another. For example, an 85% average student in Grade 12 College English would not be considered for a university program if that student has not taken the Grade 12 University English credit.

Alternative schools[edit]

Within the public boards, alternative schools have begun to emerge. In 2009 the Africentric School opened in Toronto and in 2011 the DSBN Academy opened its doors. The Africentric school was established in part to address the 40% dropout rate of black students in the Toronto District School Board.[35] the DSBN Academy is a new school aimed at providing additional supports for students who may lack access or the resources to attend post secondary education. These alternative schools are based on social contexts that the individual school boards deem necessary for their constituents and are funded within the publicly funded school systems.[36]

In addition, alternative schools in Ontario have also come to be for religious contexts as in the case of Eden High School in St. Catharines."Eden is a publicly funded secondary school that operates as an alternative secondary school within the District School Board of Niagara. The school offers the prescribed Ontario Ministry of Education’s Secondary School program delivered in the context of a community where the educational objectives of the Ministry of Education and those of Eden's own Spiritual Life Department are respected and regarded as complementary in the training of students."[37]

Private schools[edit]

Ontario private schools must do the following:

  • Offer the Ontario curriculum or a program not of lesser educational value than the Ontario curriculum[38]
  • Meet provincial standards for such things as record keeping and facilities[39]
  • Submit annually an intention to operate a private school[40]

A private institution is considered a school if "instruction is provided at any time between the hours of 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. on any school day for five or more pupils who are of or over compulsory school age in any of the subjects of the elementary or secondary school courses of study."[41]

Private schools that meet provincial standards may offer the Ontario Secondary School Diploma.

"There are approximately 700 private schools in Ontario, most represented by associations uniting schools of a common goal, view, or philosophy. Instructors are not required to be members of the Ontario College of Teachers, though many often are. More importantly, instructors are commissioned if their credentials satisfy the requirements outlined by their respective private school. As there are several types of private schools from elementary to the secondary school level, experience and training will differ for each."[42]


In 2012–2013, the total expenditure for both public and private primary and secondary education in Ontario was $26,975,997,000.[43]

Type of expenditures[43] 2008-2009 2009-2010 2010-2011 2011-2012 2012-2013
Public and private elementary and secondary education expenditures 23,750,820,000 25,171,480,000 26,422,654,000 26,718,171,000 26,975,997,000

Funding formula[edit]

The provincial government allocates funds to school boards based on factors including:[16]

  • number of students and schools
  • preponderance of special education students
  • rate of students with English or French as a second language
  • percentage of Aboriginal students
  • geographical features, such as having small schools or schools far apart


Catholic public school funding[edit]

Ontario is the only province in Canada that funds religious schools of the Catholic faith exclusively. This has been criticized by taxpayers,[44] the national LGBT community,[45] and even high profile celebrities like blogger Perez Hilton.[46]

This issue received media attention during the controversy surrounding gay-straight alliances, especially after Halton Catholic District School Board's Alice Anne Lemay compared gay-straight alliance groups to those of the Nazis in an effort to explain her board's decision to ban gay-straight alliances in their schools.[47] The ban on gay-straight alliances was repealed with board members voting 6-2 on the issue.[48]

The UN has cited Ontario for discrimination against non-Catholics, as UNESCO states that religion not be affiliated with any political powers.[49] They are suggesting that Ontario either fund no faith-based schools, or all of them. While Ontario's government maintains that its hands are tied in the matter (as the Constitution protects funding for the Catholic faith), many critics use the examples of Manitoba, Quebec, and Newfoundland (as provinces which have successfully navigated this obstacle) to counter their argument.[50]

A CBC poll suggested that 58.2% of Ontarians want a single publicly-funded school system.[51]

About half of Ontario's government-funded District School Boards are Catholic (37 out of 72).[52]

Contrary to the belief that Catholic Schools are funded exclusively, the Canadian Constitution of 1867 gave the Provinces the responsibility of education. Because schools were religious based at the time, they put in protections for the minority religion whether it be Catholic or Protestant. Over time the majority Protestant boards have become secular as they had not had protections of minority status. This has not always been true though as there is one Protestant school board and Protestant school left in Ontario, The Burkevale Protestant Separate School in the Penetanguishene Protestant Separate School Board. [53] [54]

Organizations supporting education[edit]

There are many organizations in Ontario supporting education.[55]

People for Education provides "research, resources and connections for everyone who cares about public education." Executive Director Annie Kidder believes that "Our public schools belong to all of us. They could and should be thriving hubs of every community — hubs of learning, of support for families and of neighbourhood activity.”[56]

The Society for Quality Education wants every child to succeed. The problem is that "most public schools are not using the most effective teaching methods and materials available. And, as a result, the students are not learning nearly as much as they could."[57]

Student surveys[edit]

The Ontario Student Parent & Educator Survey is an annual survey regulated by the Ontario Student Trustees Association[58][59]

The Ministry of Education does a School Climate Survey of students at least every two years, to understand and prevent bullying, and to support a positive school climate.[60]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Education Facts". Ontario Ministry of Education. Retrieved 25 January 2014. 
  2. ^ a b "CIA World Factbook - Canada". US Central Intelligence Agency. Retrieved 21 July 2009. 
  3. ^ a b c "Ministry of Education". 
  4. ^ "Table 1: Public postsecondary enrolments by province of study". The Daily. Statistics Canada. 2013-01-23. 
  5. ^ a b "Level of Educational Attainment for the Age Group 25 to 64, Percentage Distribution for Both Sexes, for Canada, Provinces and Territories". 2001 Census. Statistics Canada. 2001. Retrieved 21 July 2009. 
  6. ^ Wilson, J. Donald. "Separate School". The Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved 25 January 2014. 
  7. ^ "Find a School Board". Government of Ontario. Retrieved 25 February 2017. 
  8. ^ "Go to college or university in Ontario". Government of Ontario. Retrieved 25 January 2014. 
  9. ^ Sir George William Ross (1896). The school system of Ontario (Canada) its history and distinctive features. D. Appleton and company. Retrieved 15 April 2013. , p4
  10. ^ Ross, The school system of Ontario, p7
  11. ^ J. Harold Putnam. Egerton Ryerson and Education in Upper Canada. Library of Alexandria. ISBN 978-1-4655-0516-3. Retrieved 15 April 2013. 
  12. ^ a b c d Ross, The school system of Ontario, p9
  13. ^ Ross, The school system of Ontario, p13
  14. ^ "Egerton Ryerson". Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved 27 May 2013. 
  15. ^ a b Egerton Ryerson; Ontario. Dept. of Education (1847). Report on a system of public elementary instruction for upper Canada. Printedby Lovell and Gibson. Retrieved 27 May 2013. 
  16. ^ a b "Annual Report on Ontario’s Publicly Funded Schools 2013". People for Education. 27 May 2013. p. 41. Retrieved 22 June 2013. 
  17. ^ Fullan Report (PDF)
  18. ^ Education Act
  19. ^ Approval is governed by section 8(1), paragraph 3.0.1
  20. ^ See section 8(2)
  21. ^ Equivalent learning is defined in section 1.1 and described further in section 8(1) paragraph 3.0.1
  22. ^ Special Education Tribunal
  23. ^ Human Rights Code, R.S.O. 1990, Chapter H.19
  24. ^ Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Section 1: Rights and Freedoms in Canada
  25. ^ United Nations General Assembly (Nov 20, 1989). "Text of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child". UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Retrieved May 11, 2013.  External link in |work= (help)
  26. ^ School Board Fnding Projections for 2012-2013, retrieved January 2013
  27. ^ Education Facts at the Ministry of Education
  28. ^ Section 21(1) of the Education Act
  29. ^ Structure at Teach in Ontario
  30. ^ Pecoskie, Teri (9 April 2012). "A cap on the victory lap". Hamilton Spectator. Metroland Media Group Ltd. Retrieved 15 October 2012. 
  31. ^ Quick Facts – Ontario Schools, 2005-06. Retrieved 2009-11-01.
  32. ^ "People for Education annual report 2009" (PDF). People for Education. 
  33. ^ For example, ALPHA Alternative School
  34. ^ Ontario Curriculum
  35. ^ Brown & Popplewell, Louise & Brett (2008). "Board okays black-focused school". Toronto Star. 
  36. ^ TVO. "Niagara's low-income school". 
  37. ^ Eden High School. "DSBN Alternative School". Archived from the original on 13 October 2011. 
  38. ^ Sections 21.2 and 8(2) of the Education Act
  39. ^ Private schools at Our Kids
  40. ^ Section 16.1 of the Education Act
  41. ^ Definition of "private school" in section 1.1 of the Education Act
  42. ^ Ontario Private Schools. "social contexts". 
  43. ^ a b "Public and private elementary and secondary education expenditures". CANSIM - 478-0014 - Public and private elementary and secondary education expenditures. Statistics Canada. 2015-05-07. Retrieved 2015-05-12. 
  44. ^ CBC News, Toronto Catholic Schools
  45. ^ Xtra, Halton Catholic Schools Ban Gay-Straight Alliance Groups
  46. ^ Perez Hilton, Dear Canada
  47. ^ MacLeans Education
  48. ^ The Spectator, Halton Catholic Board Drops Ban on Gay-Straight Clubs
  49. ^ UNESCO Religion Declarations
  50. ^ One School System, Fast Facts
  51. ^ "Ontarians want public, Catholic schools to merge: poll". CBC News. CBC. Archived from the original on 2012-11-04. Retrieved 19 October 2014. 
  52. ^ Who's Responsible for Your Child's Education
  53. ^
  54. ^
  55. ^ People for Education - Links
  56. ^ People for Education - About
  57. ^ Society for Quality Education - About
  58. ^ http://Student Survey
  59. ^ People for Education
  60. ^ School Climate Survey

External links[edit]