Education in Ontario
In Ontario, children and youth between the ages of 6 and 18 must be enrolled in a formal education program. The province’s Education Act establishes the framework for the delivery of education programs. It outlines the responsibilities of key partners in the education process, from the provincial government, to school boards, to teachers in classrooms.
The Ministry of Education provides leadership and sets the direction for education policy by:
- setting provincial standards for student outcomes;
- promoting a safe, equitable, inclusive and respectful environment that supports learning;
- developing and sustaining a rigorous and challenging province-wide curriculum;
- promoting accountability throughout the publicly funded education system;
- promoting and supporting excellence in teaching; and
- providing school boards with resources, including financial resources, and support for program implementation.
There are four types of district school boards in Ontario:
- English public
- English Catholic
- French public
- French Catholic
School boards are a body of elected trustees and are responsible for student achievement and well-being, for ensuring effective stewardship of the board’s resources and for delivering effective and appropriate education programs for their students. The responsibilities of a school board include a key governance role in:
- operating schools according to provincial legislation;
- having a vision statement that reflects the board’s philosophy and local needs and priorities;
- setting the board’s budget within the provincial grants and accompanying regulations;
- implementing curriculum according to ministry curriculum policy;
- developing and delivering other programs that reflect provincial policies and local priorities;
- providing for the hiring of teachers and other staff required in their schools;
- maintaining school buildings and property with regard to student safety and in accordance with provincial legislation; and
- monitoring the policies of the schools and the achievement of students and, through the director of education, holding the entire system accountable for meeting provincial and board standards.
Education funding for school boards is determined by the Ministry of Education. For details of the funding formula go to edu.gov.on.ca/eng/policyfunding/funding.html. The fiscal year for school boards is September 1 to August 31. A financial plan, or budget, which reflects the needs of students and school boards’ educational priorities is developed and approved, each year, by the Board. The financial plan, together with program planning, facilities planning and strategic planning assist the Board in managing its total resources.
School Board Trustees
All district school boards and most school authorities are governed by locally elected trustees. The exceptions are the six school authorities located in hospitals, which have appointed rather than elected trustees. Trustees play a key leadership role in ensuring that schools operate within the standards established by the province, and that the programs and services remain responsive to the communities they serve.
Directors of Education
The director of education is the chief executive officer and chief education officer (CEO) of the school board. The Director is the sole employee who reports directly to the board and acts as secretary to the board. Through the director of education, a school board holds all of its schools accountable for results based on expectations set at the provincial and board levels. Directors are responsible for:
- advising the board on operational matters;
- implementing board policies;
- managing all facets of school board operations;
- ensuring that the board’s multi-year plan establishes the board’s priorities and identifies the resources that will be used to achieve them;
- implementing, and monitoring the implementation of the multi-year plan, reporting on this to the board, as well as reviewing it annually with the board;
- bringing to the board’s attention any act or omission by the board that could violate or has violated the Education Act or any of its policies, guidelines or regulations. If the board does not respond in a satisfactory manner, the Director is required to report the act or omission to the Deputy Minister of Education.
All school board staff report either directly or indirectly to the director of education. The director of education reports to the board, usually through the chair or his or her delegate.
Supervisory officers lead and supervise schools and programs, working with principals and staff to ensure that schools operate according to ministry and board policy, and ensuring that performance appraisals are conducted. They are responsible for ensuring that school buildings are maintained according to ministry and board policy. They must also report to the medical officer of health any case in which a school building or school property is found to be in an unsanitary condition. Reporting to the Director of Education, they hold schools accountable for student achievement.
In general, elementary schools provide programs for children in Junior Kindergarten to Grade 8, and secondary schools serve students enrolled in Grades 9 through 12.
Schools achieve excellence in education by:
- promoting high standards of individual achievement;
- promoting 21st century skills that include collaboration, communication, critical thinking, creativity and effective use of learning technologies;
- providing the understanding and basic skills required for active, compassionate participation in the life of the family, the community, the province, the nation, and a global society;
- cultivating a love of learning;
- recognizing the value of diversity among learners and communities;
- creating a safe, welcoming and positive school climate free of discrimination and harassment;
- seeking and welcoming parental involvement in school activities; and
- exploring creative approaches to education.
All boards must provide or purchase special education programs for exceptional students within their jurisdictions. While attendance of students in Junior and Senior Kindergarten programs is optional, effective September, 2014, all school boards are required to offer a full-day Junior and Senior Kindergarten program.
Principals are the educational leaders within their school communities and ensure that the programs that are in place are effective and align with board and ministry policies. They are responsible for supervising teachers and programs within their schools, and for measuring and communicating student achievement results. They work with their staff, parents, and the community to develop and implement school improvement plans that reflect school and board priorities and set strategies to improve student results. In consultation with their school council, and in alignment with board policy, principals are responsible for establishing the vision and direction for their school.
Teachers are the front-line representatives of the education system. Their many activities go beyond teaching the Ontario curriculum and include encouraging students to pursue learning, maintaining classroom discipline, and evaluating students’ learning and progress. Many teachers choose to participate in supervising activities that occur outside the regular instruction program and are designed to enrich students’ school-related experience and support educational goals. Examples include sports, arts and cultural activities.
Funding for education is the second largest portion of the Ontario budget, after Health Care. The total budget for education in Ontario in 2014 is $22.5 billion. Financial planning is a vital and integral part of the overall planning responsibilities of school boards in areas of program, capital and facilities, and long-term strategy that will ensure effective stewardship of the board’s resources. Education funding for school boards is determined by the Ministry of Education and school boards are required to develop a balanced budget within the funding allocated to them by the Ministry.
The revenue that each board receives is based on a funding formula, known as the Grants for Student Needs (GSN). The funding formula is designed to distribute funds equitably among all school boards across the province. The purpose of the Grants for Student Needs is to:
- provide fair and equitable funding for all students, wherever they live in Ontario;
- provide funding to maintain schools and build new schools where they are needed;
- protect funding for students with special needs;
- increase accountability of school boards by requiring them to report consistently on how they spend their allocations; and
- translate the provincial standards and vision for education into financial resources for school boards.
Property taxes continue to support the education system. Under the present system, the government sets a uniform tax rate, based on a current-value assessment system, for the education portion of property taxes for all residential properties in the province. The Province also sets a rate that varies by municipality for the education portion of business property taxes. Municipalities collect the education portion of property taxes for the school boards in their communities on behalf of the Province. The Ministry of Education, using the funding formula, determines each board’s overall allocation. Property tax revenues form part of the allocation, and the Province provides additional funding up to the level set by the funding formula.
Curriculum and Program
All publicly funded schools in Ontario must teach the Ontario Curriculum. Curriculum policy documents from the Ministry of Education describe the overall and specific learning expectations for students in Kindergarten through Grade 12, according to subject area. Curriculum documents which are regularly reviewed and updated can be found on the Ministry of Education website at: edu.gov.on.ca/eng/teachers/curriculum.html.
The Ontario Curriculum outlines the knowledge and skills that students must develop in grades 1 to 8, as well as the level of achievement at which they are expected to perform. Curriculum policy documents from the Ministry of Education describe the overall and specific learning expectations for students in grades 1 to 8 in the following areas:
- French as a Second Language
- Native Languages
- Science and Technology
- Social Studies / History and Geography
- Health and Physical Education
- The Arts
A separate policy document for the all-day kindergarten program outlines the expectations for kindergarten students in all subject areas.
Additionally, the Catholic systems have policy documents on Religious Education.
Students are required to complete diploma requirements as they are described in Ontario Schools, Kindergarten to Grade 12 – Policy and Program Requirements, 2011. To be awarded the Ontario Secondary School Diploma (OSSD), students must:
- complete 30 credits (18 compulsory and 12 optional) of 110 hours each;
- successfully complete the Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test (or the Ontario Secondary School Literacy Course), and;
- complete 40 hours of community involvement activities.
The 18 compulsory credits are:
- 4 English (1 credit per grade)
- 1 French as a second language
- 3 Mathematics (at least 1 credit in Grade 11 or 12)
- 2 Science
- 1 Arts
- 1 Canadian geography
- 1 Canadian history
- 1 Health and physical education
- 0.5 Civics
- 0.5 Career studies
- 3 additional credits, consisting of 1 credit from each of the following groups:
- Group 1: English, French as a second language, classical languages, international languages, Native languages, Canadian and world studies, Native studies, social sciences and humanities, guidance and career education, cooperative education
- Group 2: French as a second language, the arts, business studies, health and physical education, cooperative education
- Group 3: French as a second language, science (Grade 11 or 12), computer studies, technological education, cooperative education.
The 12 optional credits are selected from the range of courses available through the student’s school.
For secondary students in Catholic schools up to 4 credits in religious education may be required. This is determined by board policy.
Students who leave school before earning the OSSD may be granted the Ontario Secondary School Certificate, provided that they have earned the following credits:
- 7 required compulsory credits:
- 2 credits in English,
- 1 credit in Canadian geography or Canadian history,
- 1 credit in mathematics,
- 1 credit in science,
- 1 credit in health and physical education,
- 1 credit in the arts, computer studies or technological education, and
- 7 credits required optional credits, selected by the student from available courses.
- 2 credits in English,
- 1 credit in Canadian geography or Canadian history,
- 1 credit in mathematics,
- 1 credit in science,
- 1 credit in health and physical education,
- 1 credit in the arts or technological education, and
- 7 credits selected by the student from available courses.
Every school board is required by the Education Act to provide special education programs and services for its exceptional students. An exceptional student is defined as a pupil whose behavioural, communication, intellectual, physical or multiple exceptionalities are such that he or she is considered to need a placement in a special education program. A school board must detail in its Special Education Plan how it will meet the special needs of its exceptional students. The programs or services required to facilitate learning by an exceptional student will vary depending on the strengths and needs of the student. Each school board determines the range of special education programs and services required to meet the needs of its exceptional student population. Each school board’s Special Education Report must be current at the beginning of each school year and must be available at the school board’s office for review by the public. A school board may provide its own special education programs and services, or it may purchase them from another school board.
Student Assessment and Report Cards
The primary purpose of assessment and evaluation is to improve student learning. The Ministry’s Growing Success document contains the policies and practices that describe assessment, evaluation and reporting in Ontario schools. http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/policyfunding/growsuccess.pdf
Growing Success has identified seven fundamental principles; to ensure that assessment, evaluation, and reporting are valid and reliable, and that they lead to the improvement of learning for all students, teachers use practices and procedures that:
- are fair, transparent and equitable for all students;
- support all students, including those with special education needs, those who are learning the language of instruction (English or French), and those who are First Nation, Métis, or Inuit;
- are carefully planned to relate to the curriculum expectations and learning goals and, as much as possible, to the interests, learning styles and preferences, needs and experiences of all students;
- are communicated clearly to students and parents at the beginning of the school year or course and at other appropriate points throughout the school year or course;
- are on-going, varied in nature, and administered over a period of time to provide multiple opportunities for students to demonstrate the full range of their learning;
- provide on-going descriptive feedback that is clear, specific, meaningful and timely to support improved learning and achievement;
- develop students’ self-assessment skills to enable them to assess their own learning, set specific goals and plan next steps for their learning.
The achievement of elementary students is assessed regularly by teachers and a report is sent home to parents three times a year. For grades 1 to 6, teachers report student achievement using letter grades; for grades 7-8, teachers report by assigning percentage grades (0% - 100%).
The achievement of secondary students is also assessed regularly by teachers and a report is sent home to parents three times a year for non-semestered schools and twice per semester for semestered schools. Teachers indicate on the report card the level at which the student is achieving for each course by assigning percentage grades (0% - 100%).
In addition to the ongoing assessment of student progress that occurs in schools and is regularly reported to parents, there are also large-scale assessments such as the standardized testing conducted by the province’s Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO). Ontario participates as well in national and international assessments such as the Pan-Canadian Assessment Program (PCAP), the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) and Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS).