The British Columbia School System – Understand the basics

In Canada, the school system for minors is a provincial responsibility. Depending on where you are relocating from, you and your children may find some elements of the Canadian way of educating a bit challenging or unusual, but ret assured that with time, you will feel comfortable and confident with the quality of schooling, and the innovative and encouraging teaching methods.

The British Columbia school system may be difficult to maneuver at first, we’re here to help.

British Columbia School System

School System Structure

The British Columbia’s school system is composed of both public and private primary and secondary schools. The public school boards are divided into 60 school districts, including a few aboriginal school districts and the Francophone Education Authority, which is the French-language school board for all French schools across British Columbia.

You will also have the opportunity to enroll your kids in alternative schools for special needs students, as well as for kids seeking a special focus or academic learning strategy. Additionally, the government of British Columbia pays religious independent schools that meet strict its rigorous standards up to 50 per cent of the per-student operating cost for public schools.

Within the school system there is elementary, middle school, and secondary school education. Depending on the school district, these various levels could be combined in the same facilities, or separated into different buildings and sometimes middle schools,

Compulsory education in British Columbia

All youths from age six years to age 16 years are required to attend school, unless they graduate earlier.  Education is divided into three levels: elementary school (typically grade kindergarten to five), middle school (typically from grade six to grade eight) and secondary school (typically from grade nine to grade 12). Additionally, some schools may combine levels in the classroom. When classes are combined, teachers use both whole-group and grade-specific learning activities. They are still required to teach the prescribed grade curriculums for both levels. Public education in each of these levels is free, while private schools are tuition based. Both options are offered in French and English.

Upon completion of all mandatory education, students receive their Certificates of Graduation, also known as the Dogwood Diploma. After receiving this diploma, students can enroll in college or university.

British Columbia School System

Language study requirements

In BC, parents have the option to enroll their children in either English-language or French-language schools, though French-language schools are limited. If your children speak limited English, they may have the opportunity, or be required to enroll in the English as A Second Language (ESL program). This will help them learn how to read, write and speak English, while studying all of the required school subjects too.

The Francophone Education Authority is the French-language school board for all French schools across British Columbia. Enrollment is reserved for students whose first language is French. In these schools, instruction for all courses is taught in French. You can view the admission policy, and acquire registration forms here.

Some English-language schools offer French Immersion programs, which are a wonderful way for your children to become fluent. In these programs, most classes are taught in French. Admissions committees at the schools will help determine whether or not your child qualifies to attend a French-language school.

Students in grades five through eight are required to study at least one second language, and many schools offer Core French, a program that allows students to learn the French language and experience the culture of Francophones.

Public schools and school boards

The local bodies managing public schools are called public school boards. In British Columbia, children and their parents are given an exceptional amount of flexibility when it comes to picking a school district to enroll in! The best way to get started with enrollment is to contact your local school board (located in the school district closest to your place of residents) and be assigned a school within your district.

Most parents choose to enroll their children with the school board in their district, because it’s much more convenient than having to travel longer distances. That being said parents in British Columbia have the authority to enroll their kids in any public school they would like. If you want to send your children to a school system outside of your local school board system, contact that school board to register and make arrangements.

Want even more flexibility? You’re in luck! There is also an option for Distributed Learning. With the Distributed Learning system, students are able to learn at a distance from their teacher, whether they are at home, at another school, or in another learning facility. Homeschooling is another option that you may find suits your children’s and families needs. This option allows parents to provide education for their children without supervision from the BC school system. To learn more about the differences between distributed learning and homeschooling, click here.

Within the traditional public school setting, school boards can provide you with information about activities, before/after school child care options, school busses, recreational programs and more. They can also give advice to parents whose children have specific talents, special needs, or a disability. Use the “find a neighborhood” tool on to learn more about schools, schools and school boards and neighbourhoods in Vancouver.

British Columbia School System

Alternative and private schools

The British Columbia school system offers alternative schools, which involve parents in the education process significantly more than regular public schools do. These schools focus on educational, social and emotional issued for students who need more attention in these areas than they can find in the traditional school program. While these programs are geared towards vulnerable kids – those who live in poverty, who are involved in substance use or abuse, and have mental health issues – other programs are focus on gifted kids who have difficulties with social situations. A few of these schools are geared towards students with a special interest or talent in one subject or another. To enroll at these facilities, there is usually an intake process, a learning plan for each student, and an exit strategy. There are also many private alternative schools. Alternative schooling is quite common and it is fairly easy to go back to classic education afterwards.

The British Columbia school system also has a large network of private schools (about 350 total) that are tuition based. They are sometimes associated with a religious faith. Some are alternative, focusing on a specialty, and others are international schools. Many parents are attracted to the private school system due to its high quality programs, activities and equipment, regardless of whether the institution is secular or non-secular. Private schools can be costly, and they have long enrollment processes, which include exams and often interviews, especially if they are for gifted students.

Ages and grades equivalence

The “cut-off” birth date that determines which grade your child will be going to is December 31, and generally the system doesn’t bend the rules. For example, children entering kindergarten will need to turn five years old before December 31 of that year to be eligible to begin classes.

Primary school-aged children entering the British Columbia school system will be assigned a grade. Secondary school students may have an initial assessment,  which will help the school learn about his or her educational background and English skill level. It determines wether or not students will be placed in English as a Second Language (ESL) classes. For more information, you can contact your school board.

Read more about British Columbia!

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About Yaolin

It wasn’t easy for my parents to relocate from China to Canada. But they worked hard and made their new country into a real home for us. Thanks to their groundwork, my siblings and I received a great education and lots of opportunity. As an adult, I have been able to open up a real estate agency, raise a loving family, and help others tackle their own relocations so they could comfortably settle into their surroundings. Here at, our goal is share our knowledge and understanding of the relocation process so you can realize your dreams, just like I did. // La relocalisation de la Chine au Canada n’a pas été facile pour mes parents. Mais ils ont travaillé dur et ont vraiment fait de leur nouveau pays notre maison. Grâce à leur travail, mes frères et soeurs et moi avons reçu une bonne éducation et beaucoup d’opportunités. A l’âge adulte, j’ai pu ouvrir ma propre agence immobilière, élever une adorable famille et maintenant je suis heureux de pouvoir aider les autres dans leur propre relocalisation. Chez, notre objectif est de partager nos connaissances, notre compréhension du processus de relocalisation afin que vous puissiez aussi réaliser vos rêves comme je l’ai fait.