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Expats moving to Ottawa with children will be pleased to find that the city offers a high quality of English and French education in the public, religious and private systems.
Ontario's Ministry of education offers publicly-funded education from kindergarten to grade 12. Parents with young kids can also find much support for the early years, with many centres dedicated to play-based learning.
Regardless of where one chooses to send their child to school, all students attending school in Ontario are required to provide proof of immunisation. Visit the Ontario government website for a full list of required vaccines.
Public schools in Ottawa
The Ontario government pays for public elementary and secondary school education. All children in Ontario have the right to attend school, and school is compulsory for children from age six.
While most public schools in Ottawa use English as the language of instruction, there is a fair number that caters to the French-speaking population in the province. Some public schools offer English as a Second Language (ESL) programmes which can be useful for non-English-speaking expat children.
The general standard of education in Ottawa’s public schools is good. However, it is best to consult with the school directly and, if possible, network with other families to get an accurate impression of the teaching standards and facilities available.
Private schools in Ottawa
Most Canadian citizens living in Ottawa send their children to public schools. However, the city has a significant number of private schools which may be a good option for expats with employers willing to pay their children’s school fees.
The standard of education at private schools in Ottawa generally tends to be better than in public schools. Private schools in Ottawa have excellent facilities that allow students to excel in extra-curricular activities such as sports and music. Class sizes are smaller and students receive more personal attention.
Faith-based schools in Ottawa
Ottawa has a large number of schools with a religious affiliation. The establishments fall somewhere between the public and private school systems. Most religious schools in Ottawa are associated with the Catholic faith, but there are also some Jewish and Islamic schools in the city.
Religious schools in Ottawa often have more reasonable tuition fees than private schools, while those that fall within the public domain are free. The standard of teaching is fairly high and discipline is generally seen to be better than at public schools. While religious schools are required to follow the national curriculum, they integrate an element of their religious value system into the teaching.
International schools in Ottawa
Despite the city’s fairly substantial expat population, there is just a handful of international schools in Ottawa, with the majority of them following the International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum.
Expats who intend to send their children to an international school in Ottawa should be aware that the competition is fierce.
Students are often expected to write entrance exams and attend an interview. To stand a good chance of being offered a place at these schools, expats are advised to start the application process as soon as possible. There are long waiting lists of students trying to secure a place at these international schools. Fees at international schools in Ottawa can be exorbitant.
In Ottawa, as in other parts of Canada, there is the option to send children to a bilingual school. Bilingual schools are not international schools in the traditional sense. They generally follow the province’s prescribed curriculum but offer lessons in French and English so that the student can become fluent in both languages.
Homeschooling in Ottawa
Homeschooling is legal in Ontario, but expat parents must follow the correct procedures. According to law, children must attend school from the age of six, allowing for certain exemptions, such as homeschooling. Parents must notify the school board of their decision to homeschool their children. This must usually be done annually, before the start of the academic year.
Homeschooling families are still entitled to access resources in the public-school system. This includes assessments administered by the Education Quality and Accountability Office. Additionally, parents can opt for distance learning through the Independent Learning Centre (ILC). The ILC offers full-, half-, and non-credit courses via distance learning.
Furthermore, expats can also find schools in Ottawa which offer both mainstream classes and distance learning opportunities.
Special-needs education in Ottawa
All children have the right to receive a full education, and this includes students with special needs. Schools in Ottawa support students with behavioural, communicational, intellectual and physical problems.
Ottawa’s special-education programmes involve inclusive education, and adapting instruction and assessments where necessary. Assistive devices may be made available, and educators are generally well trained to apply specific teaching strategies.
We suggest that expats consult with schools and the school board to assess the needs of their child. The school board will then develop an Individual Education Plan to describe the relevant services required by the student.
Tutoring in Ottawa
Expats can easily find a tutor in Ottawa. There are several private tutoring companies as well as online platforms that allow families to search for a tutor specialised in particular academic subjects. These include TutorBright, Superprof and FirstTutors: Canada.
►Find out more about transport options in the city by checking out Getting Around in Ottawa
Are you an expat living in Ottawa?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Ottawa. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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