The educational system in the city of Toronto falls under the jurisdiction of the Ontario Provincial Government. Public education in Canada is overseen by provincial governments as opposed to federal.
There are four major publicly funded school boards in Toronto:
- The Toronto District School Board (TDSB)
- The Toronto French School Board (Conseil scolaire de district du Centre-sud)
- The Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB)
- The Toronto Catholic French School Board (Conseil scolaire de district catholique Centre-sud)
All of the above systems of education include grade levels from junior kindergarten to grade 12 and are public, simply meaning access to these educational systems is free and no tuition is required. Funding for these schools is covered by provincial tax payers and the provincial government.
TDSB and TCDSB include schools in downtown or old Toronto, and the former municipalities of Scarborough, Etobicoke, North York, York, and East York.
The two French boards have schools in Toronto and also regulate those French schools found in central southwestern Ontario. This is due to the fact these boards are much smaller and have fewer schools.
There are distinct differences between the public boards, which include TDSB, Toronto French Public and Catholic school boards, including TCDSB and Toronto Catholic French.
Schools governed under the Toronto Public School Boards are secular and do not acknowledge any sort of religious denomination or teachings in the school curriculum.
Schools under the Toronto Catholic School Boards embrace Catholic values and teachings in their school curriculums. This is reflective of the province as a whole. Ontario is divided into many different regional school boards for both the public and Catholic educational systems, with the Catholic schools often referred to as “separate schools”.
Children of any religious affiliation may attend Toronto public schools. Toronto “separate schools” target students of Catholic faith yet are not entirely exclusive.
Students of any denomination of Christianity often attend separate schools. It is not unheard of for non-Christians to go to separate school as long as both the students and parents accept and understand that Catholic values are part of the curriculum. Priority in registration is given to Catholic students when enrollment rates are high at most schools.
Public and separate schools follow the same curriculum at each grade level as given by the Ontario Ministry of Education. Separate schools must include forty minutes of religious education daily. Secondary school students studying in separate schools must graduate with four religion credits that equal one religion course taken each year from grades 9 to 12.
Secondary school students in the public school system replace those religion credits with electives. Separate schools also celebrate religious holidays such as Christmas and Easter, while public schools do not celebrate any religious holiday reflective of any one religion in order to avoid discrimination against staff and students.
Another major difference between the public and separate school boards in Toronto is dress code. While students of the public school system are expected to follow modest dress codes, they can wear any clothing meeting the dress code requirements, including any religious attire. Students of the separate school system at the high school level wear uniforms. However despite free access to separate schools the costs for uniforms is paid by those attending.
Since Canada is officially bilingual, both Toronto public and separate school boards are required to teach French for at least forty minutes each day from grade 1 to 9. The French language may be taken as an elective after grade 9. This is the main difference between the two English-speaking boards of TDSB and TCDSB and the two French-speaking boards in Toronto.
The French public and separate schools are French immersion; meaning all classes are taught in French from kindergarten to grade 12 with the exception of English classes which cover grammar, spelling, and English literature and novel studies.
The concept behind Toronto French schools is for students to become completely bilingual in both French and English upon completion. Certain schools amongst the two English-speaking boards offer optional French extended or immersion programs after a certain grade, which is typically around grade 4.
Publicly funded schools in Toronto are divided into grade divisions.
- Grades 1 to 3 are considered primary
- Grades 4 to 6 are junior
- Grade 7 and 8 are intermediate.
Elementary schools in Toronto are from kindergarten to grade 8 and students then move on to secondary school from grades 9 to 12. There are several middle schools and/or junior highs in certain districts of the city that teach grades 6 to 8 or 7 and 8, acting as transitionary schools between elementary and high school.
Ontario was the only province to offer OAC (Ontario Academic Credit) or previously known as grade 13, until 2003. Although students could graduate after grade 12 with a Secondary School Graduate Diploma, an OAC grad would receive a Secondary School Honours Graduate Diploma.
The OAC year was required for university admissions and could often allow students certain exemptions at the first year university level. This diploma has been replaced with the OSSD (the Ontario Secondary School Diploma) under the current public high school curriculum and OAC no longer exists, yet had been existent in all school boards province wide.
The year 2003 saw a doubling in numbers of high school graduates in Toronto and the rest of Ontario. There were OAC grads under the old curriculum and for the first time grade 12 graduates under the new OSSD curriculum, which had been phased in the Fall of 1999. This made competition tougher for entrance into post-secondary institutions across the province, particularly in Toronto, as it is home to three major universities and five Ontario colleges.