Understanding Alberta Education Options

Statistics show that Alberta has a world-class education system. Numbers show that about 90 per cent of Albertans, aged from 25 to 34 years, have completed high school, and 75 per cent of high school graduates are working towards, or have completed a post-secondary program.

The Alberta education system is designed to include all levels of learning capabilities and to provide students with the all tools they need to achieve their full potential. With this in mind, choice and flexibility are two of Alberta’s key principles when it comes to education.  Parents and their children can choose from a wide range of options which include traditional public and private schools, public charter schools and more.

Alberta Education is based on principles aimed at ensuring welcoming, caring, respectful and safe learning environments. A school-wide plan for bullying prevention helps fight this growing threat identifying it in the early stages and developing skills to build healthy relationships.

Here’s what a crash coarse into the Alberta Education system.

Required and Optional Schooling

By law, all youths from age six to 16 are required to attend school. Public education in Alberta is provided free of charge until the end of secondary school, for all students younger than 19 years of age. After Grade 12, the Government of Alberta offers financial assistance programs to students or families that may need support.

Alberta Education Structure

Education in Alberta is divided into four stages, Early Childhood, Elementary, Junior High and High school. Most school boards approve a traditional school year (September to June) but may also consider school years that vary from this traditional calendar. The specific schedules for public, separate, Francophone and charter schools are updated every year and can be checked online.

Early childhood education includes children from age two-and-a-half to six years of age as of September 1. The Early Childhood Services (ECS) are believed to contribute positively to the development of a child’s academic career. ECS can be public, free of charge, or private for some of which the Government of Alberta provides funding and resources. The last year of this stage is Kindergarten, designed to prepare children for Grade 1 and to provide a solid foundation for later success. Parents can decide if their children will attend.

Elementary school starts in Grade 1, at about age six. Many school boards allow children to register at five and a half years of age. Elementary school usually ends at Grade 6.

Junior high school starts at Grade 7 and ends after Grade 9. Most students in junior high school are between the ages of 11 and 15 years.

Senior high school starts at Grade 10 and ends after Grade 12. Students are usually between 16 and 18 years of age. At the end of grade 12, students are required to pass a series of examinations that include provincially set examinations to qualify for an Alberta High School Diploma.

Visit Alberta Education for more information about schooling stages.

alberta education

Choosing a school in the Alberta Education system

Choice and flexibility are two of Alberta’s education key principles. Within the public and private systems, parents can choose from a wide range of systems that include traditional schooling as well as many different programs such as online/virtual schools, outreach programs and alternative programs. Additionally Alberta Education counts with a comprehensive special needs education system.

Public schools

Public schools include separate, francophone and charter schools and they account for 92 per cent of Alberta’s students. These schools are governed by publicly elected school boards. They must accept all students, follow all the regulations approved by Alberta Education, and they must employ certificated teachers (ATA). There are no tuition fees but you may have to pay for other items such as art supplies, textbook rentals and transportation.

Separate schools: These are public schools established by a religious minority such as Protestant or Roman Catholic.

Francophone Schools: By law, parents whose first language is French have the right to educate their children in French wherever there are enough students to warrant it.

Charter schools: These schools operate with freedom from some of the regulations that are imposed upon district schools but their curriculum must follow Alberta Education’s basic program. The objective of these schools is to provide specialized or enhanced education programs that improve students’ skills, attitudes and knowledge in some measurable way.

As any other public schools, charter schools receive full government funding, they cannot charge tuition fees and must employ certificated teachers. However, teachers in charter schools are not subject to the teaching profession’s Code of Professional Conduct.

Private Schools

Parents may choose to educate their children outside the public education system. Private schools may charge tuition and other fees as required. The province has two different types of private schools: accredited and registered.

Accredited Private schools: Must be run by a non-for profit agency and they receive 60 per cent of the funding assigned to public schools. These schools must employ certified teachers, offer programs approved by Alberta Education and ensure that their students write provincial achievement and diploma examinations. Registered Private schools

Registered Private schools: These schools are independent of the Alberta Education’s program. They do not receive funding from the province, do not have to employ certificated teachers or teach the Alberta program of studies.

Home Education:

When choosing this type of education, parents assume primary responsibility for delivering and supervising their child’s courses of study. Parents must work in partnership with a school board or accredited private school to ensure the child’s educational goals are being met. Home-schooled students must be assessed at least twice per school year by the supervisory body.

For further information go to home education.

On-line Programs

Online courses offer a flexible option to access education. They are offered by school authorities under the instruction and supervision of a certified teacher. For information about current Online Programs in Alberta, click here.

Outreach Programs

An Outreach program provides an educational alternative for students who, due to individual circumstances, find that the traditional school setting does not meet their needs. In the early years the focus was on students who were considered at-risk of dropping out of school. However, in recent years the scope has widened considerably to include many more situations including students who only need a few courses for graduation, who for any reason (sports, parenting, working) cannot fit a regular high school schedule into their day, students who have been or are involved with any type of illegal activity (drugs, criminal activity, sexual abuse), students who for any reason (bullying, mental/heath issues) find large classes an impediment for learning. 
The Outreach program handbook can help you understand how this program works and the opportunities it offers.

Alternative Programs

Alternative programs can be any of the following, a) emphasize a culture or religion b) uses a particular teaching philosophy, c) a program of religious education. Examples of these programs are all girls schools, Christian, german, fine arts, international baccalaureate, hockey, monstessori, science, and others. The Alternative programs handbook provides deeper information on the subject.


Diverse learners

In Alberta, educating students with special education needs in inclusive settings is the first placement option to be considered. However, many other options are also available.

Early Childhood Special Education

Young children who are 2½ to 6 years of age by September 1, and who have been identified with a disability/delay, those who are gifted and talented or who are learning English as a second language may be entitled to special education programming. Children are eligible for up to three years of ECS funded programming, depending on age, severity of the disability/delay and its impact on the child’s ability to function within an ECS program. The requirements for Early Childhood Services (ECS) children are outlined in Standards for the Provision of

During the Early Childhood education stage, The Program Unit Funding (PUF) is available for approved ECS, in addition to Base Instruction Funding.

Alberta Human Services is responsible for Parent Link Centres, Child Care, Licensed Preschool, Family Supports for Children with Disabilities and other supports in partnership with communities through programs offered by Family and Community Support Services.

Standards for Special Education

The Standards for Special Education help ensure that Alberta Education’s high quality standards are available to all learners. Special education refers to the education of children with mild to severe disabilities and those who are gifted and talented, applying to grades 1-12 in all public and separate school boards, excluding charter schools.

Every student or ECS child in need of special education needs must have an individualized program plan (IPP) and/or an instructional support plan (ISP). School principals are responsible for the results of the special needs programs in their schools specifically of the development and evaluation of student IPPs and ISPs.

Read Diverse Learning or go to special education standards for further information.


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À propos de Jerry

Before my family and I relocated to Canada where I received a teaching opportunity at one of the country’s renowned universities, my wife and kids were naturally full of questions. What would the schools be like? How does healthcare work? Is Canadian French very different than European French? What about Canadian English verses European English? How cold are those frigid northern winters we’ve heard so much about? The only way to fully understand a new city or country is to experience it first-hand. My family and I decided to embrace our relocation as an adventure. Years after the move, we still consider “The Great White North” our home, and we couldn’t be more satisfied with our quality of life here. // Avant que ma famille et moi-même soyons relocalisés au Canada parce que j’ai eu l’opportunité d’aller enseigner dans l’une des universités assez réputée du pays, ma femme et mes enfants avaient naturellement beaucoup de questions. A quoi ressemblent les écoles ? Comment fonctionne le système de santé ? Le français canadien est-il vraiment différent de celui parlé en France ? L’anglais canadien est-il vraiment différent de celui parlé en Europe? Est-ce que les hivers sont vraiment très rigoureux? La meilleure façon de comprendre entièrement une nouvelle ville et un pays est d’en faire personnellement l’expérience. Ma famille et moi avons décidé de voir la relocalisation comme une aventure. Quelques années plus tard, nous considérons “Le Grand Nord Blanc” comme notre maison et nous ne pourrions pas être plus satisfaits.