Center on International Education Benchmarking

Canada: System and School Organization

Overview | Teacher and Principal Quality | Instructional Systems
System and School Organization | Education For All | School-to-Work Transition

Education Finance

Free education from the ages of six to eighteen is available to all Canadians, and more than 90% of Canadian students attend state-funded schools. Public schools derive more than 90% of their revenue from the government at the local and provincial level. Over the last 20 years, most provinces have taken over the funding of their schools, so that the local contribution is zero or close to it. The provincial government provides funding directly to schools. The amount of funding a school board receives is recalculated each year based on the number of regular students, special needs students and location. In addition to public schools, Canadian students can also choose to attend either charter or private schools, though this represents fewer than 10% of students. The majority of these schools receive some funding from the government, depending on how they are classified. Charter schools are expected to meet the same provincial standards as public schools, while private or independent schools must only meet broad general standards. In 2011, Canada spent 6.8% of its GDP on education, which was more than the OECD average of 6.1%. This meant, on average, that Canada spent $11,607 per student on upper secondary education; OECD countries averaged $9,506.

School Management and Organization

Each province has its own Ministry of Education, which is run by an elected Minister of Education. The Ministry sets standards, determines curricula and allots funding to the state schools in their province, as well as oversees the teacher certification process and the provision of school support services (transportation, health and food services and libraries). Provinces typically organize their school systems around locally elected school boards. Local school boards are elected bodies, and work in conjunction with the provincial government. School boards are responsible for all major hiring and personnel decisions, from the chief superintendant to the teachers. They also set annual budgets and may have some oversight on new programs and policies.

While there is a Council of Ministers of Education (CMEC) in Canada, there is no federal Ministry of Education. CMEC is mainly a vehicle of the ministers of education from the provinces to exchange information with one another and to benchmark each others systems.  The federal government does provide funding for post-secondary education, adult occupational training and for programs intended to extend educational equity to speakers of minority languages and to members of Canada’s indigenous groups.

Accountability and Incentive Systems

Many provinces have eliminated the aggressive accountability programs previously in place for teachers, and Ontario has eliminated performance pay. Instead, teachers are expected to be accountable to their peers and to be motivated by school culture, school leadership and a shared purpose, rather than by the promise of bonuses or the fear of termination. Similarly, in failing schools, the focus is on improving the performance of current staff, rather than seeking replacements. At the national level, a sample of Canadian students take tests in reading, math and science at the ages of 13 and 16 called the Pan-Canadian Assessment Program (PCAP).  PCAP’s results are used at the national level to determine progress across the provinces every three years.  Ontario has established the Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO), which advises the Minister of Education on issues regarding school assessment and accountability. The EQAO designs and implements annual student assessments for students in grades 3, 6, 9 and 10. Results are aggregated at the school and school board levels. The EQAO publishes profiles of successful schools alongside analysis of the policies that have led to the schools’ success.

Parent and Community Participation

There has traditionally been a supportive culture for public education and educational pursuits in Canada. The Canadian government also grants immigration rights to people based on their perceived ability to fill certain professional roles in Canadian society, meaning that the population is consistently being augmented with highly-educated people, who are likely to pass on strong educational values to their children. Perhaps as a result of these factors, studies show that Canadian children are more likely to read for pleasure than any other children in the world.

Annual Expenditure by Upper Secondary Educational Institutions per Student for All Services

Canada Expenditure on Education (2013, in equivalent USD converted using PPPs for GDP, public institutions only) Source: OECD

The Ministries of Education in several Canadian provinces actively encourage increased parent involvement in schools. In Ontario, the ministry supports Parent Involvement Committees (PICs) and small grants called Parent Reaching Out Grants (PROs), which are used to “identify barriers to parent engagement” and to find local solutions to engage parents in the schools. All provinces have Parent-Teacher Associations, and in some provinces, parents are also encouraged to participate on school councils or advisory boards.


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