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How to Find the BEST Schools in Ottawa

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Making the right choice when it comes to school is one of the most critical and stressful decisions a parent can make when relocating their family to another city. There are a lot of things to consider when you’re moving your family to Ottawa. You want to find the perfect home, the right neighbourhood, and of course the best schools for your kids. It can be hard to figure out which schools are the best fit for your family. There are so many factors to consider – like location, curriculum, catchment areas, language, and extracurricular activities. Luckily, in this video we will cover how the school system works, the various boards, catchment areas, and academic ranking as well as some ninja tactics to help your family make the move less stressful BUT before we get into it – SHOWREEL! HIT IT!

If you’re moving to Canada from abroad or coming from another province, Ottawa schools might seem a little confusing.  If you’re looking for schools that provide quality education combined with a great atmosphere and resources, then look no further. Many parents are doing their own research to make an educated decision on where they would like to send their children. Useful criteria to consider when choosing a school include factors such as the student-teacher ratio, enrichment programs offered, available tech resources, success stories of past alumni, and an up-to-date curriculum. It’s time to do the hard work of researching prospective schools – but don’t worry – the perfect school is out there! And make sure to stay until the very end to learn all the ninja tactics to really get a true understanding of making the right choice for your children’s future school.

Elementary and Secondary Education IN OTTAWA

The availability and requirements of public education vary from province to province in Canada. If you’re moving to Ottawa, your children must start school by age six and continue through age 18.

Kindergarten is not compulsory in Ontario, but most children attend. It’s a great way to begin their education! The first year of kindergarten in Ottawa is called Junior Kindergarten and children can enroll at age four. Children then move up to Senior Kindergarten at age five. Compulsory school begins at age six with grade 1.

Most elementary (or primary) schools in Ottawa teach students from Junior Kindergarten to grade 6. Junior high is grades 7-8 and high school (secondary school) covers grades 9-12. You may find some schools break up the grades differently, with primary school going from JK to grade 8, or special curriculum beginning at grade 4.

These differences are largely a function of individual school space and preference. They don’t generally affect the overall quality or performance of the school. 

Publicly Funded School Boards IN OTTAWA

The city of Ottawa is served by four school boards. These publicly-funded boards include two English-language boards and two French-language boards. Each language has one public and one Catholic school board.

The vast majority, over 80%, of students in the city of Ottawa are served by the two English language school boards: The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board and the Ottawa Catholic School Board. 

The French language boards cover much of Eastern Ontario outside of the city.

The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board is the largest in the city, serving over 70,000 students at 143 schools. 

The four school boards combined have an elementary enrolment of over 96,000 students. At the secondary level, almost 45,000 students enrolled for the 2017-2018 school year.

All of the schools administered by these four boards are public. The school boards themselves are administered by publicly elected trustees. The term school board refers both to those who are entrusted to govern and to the district itself.

Public School Performance IN OTTAWA

Children who attend Ottawa’s public schools score higher than Ontario averages in both math and reading at grade 6. At grade 10, Ottawa’s public school students score higher than the Ontario average in literacy, applied math, and academic math.

Ottawa’s public elementary schools make French language learning and teaching part of their curriculum. Starting in year one, the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board offers early French immersion, an English program with core French, an alternative program with core French, and for grades 4-8 middle French immersion.

The options for high school students are even more varied. While individual schools may perform better than others in direct comparisons, the public school system in Ottawa is excellent.

Most children in Ottawa attend one of its public schools. When you’re looking for a home in Ottawa, you’ll definitely want to check the local schools. But rest assured that the system is robust and responsive to the needs of all students. 

Fraser Institute School Rankings

Attendance/Catchment Areas IN OTTAWA

Which public school your children attend is determined by where you live. All of the local school board websites have boundary maps to help you figure out your neighbourhood schools. These are called catchment areas. They do change from time to time so ensuring you use the School Locator Tool on their respective websites is important. We will leave a link below in eh video description to help you with your search.

For example, maybe you’re looking at homes in Carleton Heights and have young children. The Carleton Heights Public School has a JK-8 English Program with Core French and Grades 4-6 Middle French Immersion. Your public Catholic schools are St. Rita School and St. Augustine School.

When they’re older, your children will attend Merivale High School (my old high school).

Maybe you’ve heard about a great school that you think would be a good fit for your family. One way to narrow your search for a home is to look in the designated catchment area for the school or schools you like. 

Each school district has easy-to-use boundary maps on its website for families. You can find out the schools for a home address, or look for homes based on school preference.

You may find that your home is in more than one catchment area. That gives you more options. It isn’t easy to enroll your child in a public school outside your designated catchment area. If attendance at a particular public school is at the top of your list for finding a home, be sure to look in its catchment area. 

Private Schools in Ottawa  

In addition to fantastic public schools, Ottawa has a good number of private schools. Though private schools do have to follow some regulations, they are independent of the Ministry of Education. They do not receive public funding.

If you’re living in Ottawa and are interested in a private school you have a lot of options. Some are Christian, some Jewish, and some Islamic. Most are either English or bilingual, but there are two French-language private schools in the city.

There are private schools for children from Preschool or Junior Kindergarten to grade 12. Most are co-ed, but some teach only girls or only boys. Most are regular day schools but at least one, Asbury College, offers boarding programs for grades 4-12.

Tuition varies greatly from one private school to the next. The range is generally between $10,000 and $20,000 with a couple costing close to $30,000.

You’ll find plenty of rankings of Ottawa’s private schools online. But there is enough variety that third-party rankings are difficult to interpret. The best way to find the right private school is to look for the philosophy and teaching methods you prefer in the setting that works best for your child.

One major feature of private schools is that enrolment is not dependent on your catchment area. Private schools accept students on their own terms.

Alternative Schools in Ottawa

Ottawa’s public school districts offer alternative programs for students whose needs are not met by a traditional curriculum. 

Alternative schools offer flexible programming for students who are parents or have jobs. They offer a special curriculum for children on the autism spectrum or with other special learning needs. They give students who have difficulty learning in a conventional classroom the individual attention they need to flourish. 

Many of the alternate schools provide students with a less formal environment and smaller class sizes. One-on-one instruction is common, as are support services. Some offer peer support, others provide circumstance-specific instruction.

Ottawa’s alternative schools are part of the public school system. They are dedicated to making sure that every child and young person in Ottawa has access to high-quality education and support. 

Ranking Ottawa’s Schools

It is very tempting to look for school rankings online. The Frasier Institute offers rankings for public schools across Ontario. It’s an easy-to-use tool that puts a simple number and rank on every school. I’ll place a link in the video description below to help you with your research.

You can click on a school to see how it rates in specific performance areas. The school report cards are based on written assessments done by students in grades three and six. 

This information is publicly available, but The Frasier Institute places it into a relatively easy-to-navigate format.

Beware when evaluating a school based on numerical rankings. Even the Frasier Institute says its report cards are not enough to choose a school. They encourage parents to visit schools and their websites. 

Comparative numbers only go so far. A school’s full story cannot be told in its standardized test scores. The Frasier Institute rankings can be a good addition to your other school-finding tools but don’t rely on these numbers alone.

Finding the BEST Schools in Ottawa

So what is the very best school in Ottawa? Which should you choose for your child? The answer is simple: there is no single answer. Ottawa is filled with good public, private, and alternative schools. You can use objective comparisons like those from The Frasier Institute or other online sources. They may give you a general idea about the performance of an individual school.

But a school that ranks highly on one measure isn’t necessarily the best school for every child in Ottawa. The public school system strives to provide an environment for every student that fits their circumstances and learning style. 

As you look for a home in Ottawa, check out the public schools in each catchment area. Visit, and talk to teachers, principals, and other parents. The best school in Ottawa is the one where your child feels nurtured and able to learn. That may be the school down the street or one on the other side of town.

If you want to develop a solid understanding of the school district in a specific catchment area, simply join one of the Facebook parent groups in that neighbourhood and gain insights from other parents who have gone through similar experiences. Gathering real-life feedback will help you make an informed decision about where to send your kids for their education. Yet, take any feedback or opinion with a dose of skepticism as everybody has their own points of view on education systems and the method in which it is being taught. Thus, make your choices based on what works best for you after considering all the available data.

Open house visits or school tours offer parents the invaluable opportunity to get a feel for the overall atmosphere and culture of a school. It can give people an insight into how classrooms are structured, student-teacher dynamics, as well as any extracurricular activities or clubs available to students. This can indicate what type of learning environment would suit their child best and help them make an informed decision about their children’s educational futures. School tours allow for lots of questions and open dialogue with school staff who can answer queries about how each particular school works. On top of this, they may get the opportunity to speak to other parents who have previously enrolled their children in the same institution. Overall, these visits provide an essential glimpse into a school that cannot be replicated by any research alone.

Researching online, speaking with administrators and teachers at school open houses, reading local educational resources, and engaging in conversations with other Ottawa parents are all ways to come up with potential schools when exploring your options. Additionally, meeting with key personnel on a school’s admissions team can provide a holistic overview of what each school has to offer, enabling you to make an informed decision on the most suitable institution for your children.

Moving your family to Ottawa is an exciting step that comes with a lot of research and important decisions. To get it right, you need to find the perfect home in a pleasant neighbourhood as well as high-quality schools for your kids. When considering a new living space, factor in all the details – size, location, cost, access to amenities, and services – while making sure that it’s large enough to accommodate everyone.

Choosing a neighbourhood should also be based on factors such as safety and lifestyle; take into account things like community events, parks, or activities before making your decision. Lastly, when selecting schools for your children make sure that the institution has an excellent academic program with extracurriculars specifically tailored for their interests and needs. By doing your due diligence when choosing homes and communities for your family you can move confidently to Ottawa knowing that you made the best decision for them.

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