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.  

In Ontario, all children aged six to 18 are legally required to be enrolled in schools. As with the rest of Canada, elementary schools have junior kindergarten and kindergarten classes for children aged four and five and classes for grades 1 to 8 for students aged six to 13.

At the age of 13, children attend high school to complete their secondary education. High schools in Ottawa provide education for children up to the age of 18.

Regardless of where one chooses to send their child to school, all students attending school in Ontario are required to provide proof of immunisation. 

Public schools in Ottawa

The Ontario government pays for public elementary and secondary school education and expat students with a residence permit can attend any public school in Ontario at no cost. Students without a residence permit will be required to pay tuition fees for public schools; these are still only a fraction of what private or international schools cost.

While most public schools in Ottawa use English as the language of instruction, there are a fair number that cater 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 the school’s report card 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 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 most 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. 

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