The Difference between Public and...

The Difference between Public and Private High Schools in Canada

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Canada offers public and private high school systems. Both exist in parallel and deliver the same education curriculum, but neither is “better” nor “worse”. Some might gravitate more towards one or the other, depending on the student’s needs (such as more individualized attention) and preferences (such as smaller class sizes).

What is the difference between public and private high schools in Canada?

The public school system delivers a standard curriculum that is set and approved by the Ministry of Education of that province or territory. Only day programs are offered. Many public high schools in Canada accept international students. Most schools offer the main courses in English, but there are some schools that offer the majority of their courses in French (these are called “French immersion” schools). In Quebec, the main language is French. Some public schools are part of the Catholic school board, which means that religion is a mandatory subject of study at every level from grades 9 to 12.

Private schools deliver the same curriculum as public schools, but class sizes tend to be smaller. This allows teachers to provide more specialized attention to students. Some private schools are boys-only or girls-only. Many private schools offer on-site residences or accommodations (“boarding schools”), in addition to specialized arts or sports programs.

Both public and private schools offer accommodation for students with learning and physical disabilities, and many offer specialized academic programs such as International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma and Advanced Placement (AP) programs.

Are private schools better compared to public schools?

Statistics Canada regularly publishes the results of standardized test scores among students in private and public schools across Canada. A study titled “Academic Outcomes of Public and Private High School Students: What Lies behind the Differences?” reveals that “private high school students score significantly higher than public high school students on reading, mathematics, and science assessments at age 15, and have higher levels of educational attainment by age 23” (Statistics Canada, 2015). According to the report, the factor that accounted for this difference is socioeconomic standing. “Students who attended private high schools were more likely to have socio-economic characteristics positively associated with academic success and to have school peers with university-educated parents” (Statistics Canada, 2015). In other words, socioeconomic factors play a larger role in influencing the higher test scores, and it does not necessarily reflect the difference in the quality of education or teaching provided by private versus public schools.

How do fees for public vs. private high school compare for international students?

For Canadian citizens and permanent residents, the Canadian public school system is free from kindergarten (age 5) to high school (age 17 or 18). For international students, most schools charge fees ranging from $8,000 to $14,000 annually. Some schools charge small fees for participating in extra activities such as field trips, school outings, and sports teams or extra-curricular programs. Most schools have on-site cafeterias where students can purchase meals, but many students bring their own lunch and snacks to school. Depending on the school, students may be allowed to leave the school premises during lunch or break times to go to a nearby plaza to purchase meals.

The private school system carries tuition fees and other fees for uniform and boarding (if you live in their residence) for everyone who enrolls, regardless if you are a Canadian citizen, permanent resident, or international student. Tuition fees for private school tend to be higher due to the lower student-to-teacher ratio and smaller class sizes, but fees may vary by school and region. Please contact the school directly for enrollment and information on fees.



EduCanada. (2019). High School in Canada. https://www.educanada.ca/programs-programmes/secondary-secondaire.aspx?lang=eng

Statistics Canada. (2015, March). Academic Outcomes of Public and Private High School Students: What Lies Behind the Differences? Publication #11F0019M, no. 367. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/11f0019m/11f0019m2015367-eng.htm

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