We’re very grateful to Paula Cruise from the Irish Women’s Network of BC who kindly prepared this information to assist young families planning on relocating to Vancouver.
The Greater Vancouver area offers amazing flexibility when it comes to children’s education. Whether you choose public or independent schools, homeschooling or distributed learning, French or Mandarin immersion, the BC Ministry of Education is the best place to start.
This website helps you locate your school district and provides useful information on the best type of program to suit your family. Most school districts will offer French Immersion as an option, but some will offer Montessori, enrichment, and other specialized programs. The Vancouver School Board provides the most diverse program options.
In general, children begin kindergarten during the calendar year in which they reach 5 years of age. If your child was born towards the end of the year (November or December) and/or you feel they are not sufficiently developed for a full-day (9 a.m. – 3 p.m.) kindergarten program, your catchment school may offer some flexibility such as a delayed start or a half-day option.
The major school grade divisions are elementary (Grades K–7) and high school (Grades 8–12). Some districts and independent schools offer middle school and junior high school alternatives.
Public schools are coed, inclusive, and free to all BC residents, with most schools providing all text books and learning resources. Each city in the Greater Vancouver area has its own school district. Within these districts, catchment areas are identified for every school. The appropriate school district’s website will match your home address to your catchment.
You cannot register your children in a public school unless you have your Confirmation of Landing or Permanent Residency. Registration priority generally goes to those students registered by February of the year of entry. Your catchment school, however, may accept applications up to the start of the academic year. As provincial class number requirements are strictly adhered to in public schools, you may not be able to find a position in the appropriate grade if you move during the academic year (September – June). It may be possible to apply for a public school outside of your catchment/district, but there are no guarantees and there is often a lot of competition for popular programs. Non-residents are sometimes asked to register at a central district office rather than at their catchment school. Your district’s website will provide this information. Be sure that you have the required list of paperwork to prove your child’s age and residency. You may also be asked to provide your child’s vaccination history.
For pre-school-age children, several public schools offer StrongStartBC, an early education program for children under the age of 5 when accompanied by a parent or caregiver. Numerous private daycare and pre-school facilities also run programs for younger children. Local community centres, recreation centres,and public libraries usually offer a ton of fun and educational programs for all family members.
A list of independent schools, including faith-based schools,is provided by the Federation of Independent School Associations.
Another useful website listing a number of private schools is provided by Our Kids and offers advice on selecting and applying to private schools.
Independent schools generally charge quite a high tuition fee. Faith-based schools, however, offer significant discounts to members of their congregations, and families with more than two children attending an independent school can sometimes access a reduced fee schedule.
The Fraser Institute offers an assessment of all schools in BC, public and independent, but it is important to be aware that this assessment is a snapshot of cohorts. The report has often been criticized for being weighted in favour of schools with students from a higher socio-economic background.
Homeschooling and Distributed Learning Schools
Distributed Learning (DL) allows you to register with a ministry-approved school but oversee the learning at home with ministry funding.
A useful list of resources and ways to connect with fellow homelearners is available from the Greater Vancouver Homelearners.
Children with Special Needs
Public schools in BC can accommodate children with special needs and those for whom English is not a first language. Schools have resources to assist any child that may need extra help, either socially or academically. Many independent schools specialize in certain areas of learning disability, such as dyslexia. Funding for special programs or assistance may be available from the ministry for special programs or assistance.