Center on International Education Benchmarking

Student Support Systems

Despite the fact that Canadian education is almost wholly administered at the provincial level, the federal government has assumed responsibility for funding and encouraging the education of Canada’s indigenous peoples, who have traditionally been underserved by the state education system. The federal government has also made it a stated goal to establish education in the official minority languages in each province and provide funding to support the development and maintenance of these programs.  Canadian children, like their parents, have access to national healthcare and, for those students living in poverty, income subsidies. With concerns about health care and basic income removed, parents and students are more able to focus on academic performance and students are less likely to leave school at an early age to pursue full-time work.

Since 2003, Ontario has focused on supporting struggling students in schools. As part of their goal to improve literacy and numeracy rates, the ministry has implemented a series of major reforms. These included establishment of the Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat, a one-hundred person team, separate from the Ministry,  devoted exclusively to working closely with districts and schools to improve literacy and numeracy. The Secretariat works with schools to set high but achievable goals for improvement in these basic skills and to identify ways to improve achievement. Specially-designated teams at both the school and district levels were funded to support the program, creating the capacity needed to carry it out. The result of these efforts was to raise the average proficiency rate on grade 3 provincial exams in reading, math and writing from an average of 55% in 2003 to 72% in 2014.

The second major reform was the Student Success Strategy, which focused on identifying potential dropouts early and providing them with the additional help they needed to succeed, including one-on-one learning opportunities, development of a range of new high school majors to appeal to a larger number of students, and the addition of experiential learning to classroom learning. Government provided the resources the high schools needed to hire designated special teachers whose role was to support this program in each school. The result was an increase in high school graduation rates from 68% in 2003, when the new government came into office, to 82% in 2013.

According to a National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth, completed in 2001 and reported in 2007, 4.9% of Canadian students have a reported disability; in some provinces, this number is as low as 2.5%. Of these students, on average, 60% are educated in mainstream classrooms. Therefore, Canada identifies students for additional special needs services; that being said, the scope of these services differs by province. For example, Ontario considers a wide range of students “special needs,” from students with developmental or physical disabilities and/or learning disabilities to students who perform far beyond their grade level. As such, schools seek to reach accommodation with all of these students through modified educational programs and access to necessary resources. For students who cannot thrive in a mainstream school, there are special schools for students whose disabilities include deafness, blindness and extreme learning disabilities.  The Ontario Ministry of Education allocates specific funds to school boards for special education programs and services, provides expert advice to school boards when considering special education policies, and has a tribunal in place to help mediate between school boards and parents if a conflict arises. The Ontario Ministry of Education also publishes yearly Guidelines for Policy Development and Implementation, in order to guide school boards and administrative staff to achieve equity and inclusive education in Ontario schools.

Low-Performing Schools

Provinces use two forms of funding to provide resources to low performing schools: categorical grants, which fund particular programs; and equalization funding, which tops up funding for struggling schools. Categorical grants can also be used for special programs in struggling schools, as well as for transportation and special education needs.

In Ontario, the government has invested about $25 million Canadian Dollars per year in the Ontario Focused Intervention Partnership (OFIP), which began in the 2006-2007 school year. This money went directly to 1,100 low performing schools, while a further $7.6 million was set aside for before- and after-school tutoring programs. Funding to specific schools is determined based on their categorization in the OFIP system; OFIP 1 schools have less than 34% of students meeting the provincial standard for reading, OFIP 2 schools have 34-50% of students meeting this standard, and OFIP 3 schools have 51-74% of students meeting the standard, but have either declined or failed to show improvement over the past three years. School boards can use OFIP money for teacher professional development, resources and materials and literacy/numeracy coaches, among other things. The ministry has also developed a School Effectiveness Framework to assist school boards with improvement planning. It outlines a program of observation, analysis and reflection for school leaders, promotes collaboration with successful schools, and provides resources as administrators move forward with improvement plans.


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