Compulsory Education Ages
Depending on the province or territory, children may start at the age of 5 or 6 and continue until they are between 16 and 18.
As noted earlier, home education in all Canadian jurisdictions satisfies compulsory education requirements. Yet while the right for parents to choose to home educate their children has been protected since confederation, the regulatory framework within which home education has been delivered in Canada has varied over time and across educational jurisdictions.
As in most Western countries, the first phase of modern era Canadian homeschooling was initiated by critics who questioned the correspondence between the institutional processes of schooling and the child’s natural approaches to learning. Legal provision for the freedom to home educate, however, implied neither general awareness of the practice nor accessible expertise to support the practice. This first phase of modern homeschooling in Canada—protected by residual regulation from pioneer times—was often met with attempts to either shut down individual instances of the practice, naively subject the practice to hostile interrogation, either formally or informally, or simply marginalize the practice by regarding it as a curiosity.
The second phase of homeschooling in Canada begun in the early 1980s and lasting to the mid-1990s, resulting in a comparative explosion of adherents. Homeschooling families were often dealt with by the authorities on a case by case basis, their treatment ranging from lenient to invasive. Even where provincial policies existed, application of the policies varied board by board. A festering discontent emerged over the prevalence of unevenly applied, vague laws and policies, which resulted in many families hesitating to declare their status and be counted in official statistics. The variation in accountability measures during this phase—many of which resulted in provincial inquiries and several of which moved into the courts—could not be sustained. Combined with the increasing numbers of students that had to be somehow incorporated into the educational framework, Ministries became more invitational in their approach to homeschooling.
In contrast to the two earlier phases, the current third phase of home education in Canada is marked by normalization of the practice. From the mid- to late 1990s until the present, not only were regulations and policies standardized within each province, but the aura of suspicion surrounding the practice in many provinces began to lift. Ministries conveyed an authentic desire to record how many and which families were home educating, and in some jurisdictions—especially the western provinces—to offer practical financial and/or resource support towards its success. An atmosphere of freedom and trust began to surround the practice as a new phase of long-term reporting and standardized regulation came into place in most jurisdictions.
The process of normalization has primarily moved from west to east, with Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador remaining anomalies as both jurisdictions continue to evidence an inhospitable disposition towards home education.
"Homeschooling" in Legislation
In the four most western provinces, regulatory changes occurred in the late 1990s and early 2000s—and since then some have been further updated—resulting in each province’s legislation not only mentioning home education in some form,
but in several also providing separate detailed regulation of the practice. For example, in Ontario a 2002 Ministry of Education Policy Program Memorandum ushered in a new era of official accommodation toward home education, as did a 2003 section
added to the Prince Edward Island Education Act.
Smith (1996) discusses how homeschooling was first “recognized as an acceptable educational option within the education acts of Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia, and Yukon Territory”, with other jurisdictions simply allowing exemption from compulsory public school attendance where a child was under “efficient”, “equivalent”, “satisfactory”, or “adequate” instruction at home or elsewhere.
Although they allowed for it, the statutes in those provinces did not then make specific reference to homeschooling. But over the past 15 years or so, notable changes have been made. Twelve provinces and territories now specifically recognize the option of homeschooling (by some similar name) within their statutes. Four distinctive labels are used in the respective Education or School Acts to describe the practice: “home education/home education program” (British Columbia, Alberta, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Yukon Territory), “home-based education” (Saskatchewan), “home school/ home schooling/homeschooled/home schooling program” (British Columbia, Manitoba, Quebec, Northwest Territories and Nunavut Territory), and “home instruction” (Newfoundland).
These Education or School Acts not only specifically name the practice, but include varying amounts of detail on its governance. Only in Ontario and New Brunswick is the practice not recognized in legislation. These two jurisdictions simply allow for
the fulfillment of compulsory attendance requirements by a student being under either “satisfactory” or “effective” instruction “elsewhere”, with additional policy documents in these two provinces completing the
Provinces and Territories with Specific Regulations
The gradual recognition of homeschooling in the governing education legislation of all but two of Canada’s provinces and territories effectively entrenches this educational option as a legitimate choice. Furthermore, a growing number of jurisdictions have developed regulations governing the practice of home education. In general, these regulations cover such issues as the responsibilities of the various parties, the notification process, and assessment and funding arrangements, where applicable, thus increasing official recognition of the practice. In short, the practice is increasingly regarded as acceptable and is less frequently viewed with suspicion.
In Alberta, the Government amended it's Education Act. Beginning in September 2020, parents can choose 1 of 2 options to homeschool in Alberta.
- Supervised by school authority (funded): a home education program supervised by a willing public, separate or francophone school board or accredited funded private school. Eligible for funding from Alberta Education.
- Not supervised by school authority (notification only, non-funded): a home education program not supervised by a school board or accredited funded private school. Not eligible for funding from Alberta Education.
In British Columbia, parents must enroll their homeschooled child with a public school or independent school of their choice. The school is paid a nominal fee (slightly more if it is a public school) for accepting the enrollment, maintaining contact with the family, and offering evaluation and assessment services as well as instructional resources for the pupil. The number of homeschooled students enrolled in public and independent schools in British Columbia declined from 2,811 in 2006/07 to 2,228 in 2010/11. In contrast the number of students enrolled in Distributed Learning Programs (in which students are registered with a school and most of the learning takes place at a distance) increased by almost 300 percent during the same period, from 16,876 to 49,601 students. During this period the number of students enrolled in all forms of schooling in the province decreased from 655,732 to 649,366, but independent school enrollment increased from 67,916 to 70,272.
Manitoba’s Public-School Act is considerably more demanding than Ontario’s Education Act. Section 260 requires the parent or guardian of a child who is a pupil in a homeschool to annually notify the minister of the establishment of the homeschool in an approved format, providing the name and birth date of each pupil, the name of the school or school division each pupil would otherwise attend, and an outline of the education program and grade level for each pupil. The educational programs are completed according to a Notification Form Template and are typically submitted by September of each year for each student (260.1(2) of the MB Public Schools Act). The parent or guardian is also required to provide the Minister with periodic progress reports on each pupil in the home school in January and June of each year.
Every report is reviewed, processed, and filed, and in some instances, feedback is provided to the parents. Students are not required to participate in any provincial or other standard forms of assessment and no funding is offered for the home education program. The latest numbers available for Manitoba indicate that home schooling enrollments have steadily increased from 1,669 students in 2004/05 to 2,964 in 2014/15. One homeschooling liaison in a homeschooling regional office suggested that the increase may be due to an uptick in bullying in schools, an increased willingness by parents to comply with the notification requirements, and an increase in the popularity of blended school and homeschool models of educational delivery.
In New Brunswick, homeschoolers simply submit an annual “Home Schooling Application Form” to the school district office by September 16th of each year. The form includes an indemnity accepting full responsibility for the effective instruction of their children and a declaration by the parent that the instruction will contain certain subjects and activities. New Brunswick education statistics reveal that the numbers of notifying home educators in the province are remaining steady with, for example, 561 notifying students in 2007/08 and 693 in 2014/15. (Approximately 30 to 50 per year are francophone, the great majority anglophone.) In some sense the number of notifying home schooled students is surprising given that not even twice the amount are enrolled in independent schools in the province per year.
Ontario is similar to most Canadian educational jurisdictions in that funding is not provided for home educating parents. Section 21 of the Education Act simply allows for “satisfactory instruction at home or elsewhere” and an official directive instructs officials to collect basic information from home educators in their school districts. Educational authorities are instructed in PPM 131 to accept from parents a notification of intent to homeschool as evidence of “satisfactory instruction” and are subject to conditions under which the authorities may conduct any investigation.
Although this has not been the case in the past, the atmosphere surrounding the practice is relatively accepting. Freedom is given to follow the educational program of the parent’s choice. Slim accountability measures are in place. Home educators’ function as autonomous educators, and unless evidence is presented otherwise, they are deemed to be providing satisfactory instruction. Numbers of homeschooled students in the province increased steadily from 3,170 in 2005/06 to 6,502 in 2014/15.
Prince Edward Island
Section 139 of Prince Edward Island’s School Act states:
- A parent who intends to provide a home education program for his or her child shall, for each school year, provide the Minister with (a) a notice in the form approved by the Minister of the parent’s intention to provide a home education program in accordance with the regulations; and (b) a declaration that the parent acknowledges his or her responsibilities related to the provision of the home education program for his or her child.
- The Department may provide to the parent advice and comments on the home education program.
- A student attending a home education program may attend courses offered by an education authority as permitted by the regulations.
Under the new Education Act (formerly s. 139 of School Act), parents no longer have to provide a copy of their proposed homeschool program. The new notification form requires parents to sign an acknowledgement that they understand their responsibilities. As before, the department may provide to the parent advice and comments on the home education program.
The Quebec Education Act was revised in 2017 and the changes had a significant impact on homeschooling in the province. Prior to these changes, school boards previously asserted the right to determine whether a homeschooled student was receiving an education “equivalent to what is provided at school,” and the relationship between school boards and the homeschooling community was quite strained” Article 15 of the Education Act was revised to state that a student who receives appropriate homeschooling is exempt from compulsory school provided that a number of conditions are met.
These conditions require parents to:
- notify the Ministry of Education and the relevant school board that they will be homeschooling by July 1st of each year;
- prepare and submit by September 1st a “learning project” detailing the student’s course of studies for the year;
- prepare a written status report/midterm report mid-year;
- attend a “monitoring meeting” with the Ministry each year;
- submit a completion report by June 15th of each year; and
- evaluate the student’s progress through public school exams in several subjects, while the government does not require the use of a provincial curriculum, the use of the public school curriculum is unavoidable in certain subjects of the student is to pass the provincial exams
The revised legislation is clear that the Ministry, not the school boards, “monitors” homeschoolers, which has been a positive development for the homeschooling community. There are provisions addressing mandatory content to be covered
by homeschoolers (such as French, math, “human development” and social studies), and provisions that allow for exemptions from required subjects where a student has special needs. This new homeschooling paradigm in Quebec involves
substantially more work on the part of the parents and significant oversight of the homeschooling community by the provincial Ministry. It does, however, normalize and affirm homeschooling as a valid educational option in Quebec, and resolve
much of the uncertainty that used to plague homeschooling families in Quebec is exempt from compulsory attendance.
The Education Act of the Statutes of Saskatchewan defines home-based education as a program that is provided to a pupil between the ages of 6 and 18, that is started at the initiative of and is under the direction of the parent or the guardian of the pupil, and in which the pupil is receiving instruction at and from the home of the pupil.
In striking contrast to the definition of student in the Ontario Education Act, the definition of pupil in the Saskatchewan Act includes a person who is receiving instruction in a registered home-based education program. Section 157(1) of the Act allows that a pupil may be exempted from attendance at a school where “the pupil is receiving instruction in a registered home-based education program.” The Home-based Education Program Regulations, first promulgated in 1994 and revised in 2015, specify that registration of home-based pupils will, in the first instance, be with the pupil’s resident board. Notification of intention to provide home-based education must be given by August 15 before instruction begins.
The home-based educator is deemed to have accepted the control, direction and management of the home-education program and the responsibility for the education of the student. In what appears to be the more detailed approach to reporting, a written education plan is required as is a portfolio of student work and as annual report of student progress. However, the portfolio need not necessarily be submitted to the authorities annually.
Access to standardized testing and special needs assessments are made available. School divisions receive up to 50 percent of the regular per pupil funding amount per registered home educating student, with some of the funds being redistributed to the parent through items such as books, facilities use, or waived distance learning fees. The number of students enrolled in home-based learning in Saskatchewan was 1,810 in the 2008/09 school year with modest increases to 1,940 in September 2010 and to 2,162 students in the 2014/15 school year.
As part of homeschooling registration process in the Yukon Territory, parents are required to submit a three year education plan which includes the teaching methods and resources to be used for the subjects of literacy and numeracy. There is no requirement to provide this information for other subject areas. Aurora Virtual School coordinates and monitors homeschooling in the Yukon. Home education is described by the Yukon Department of Education as one of the educational “alternatives outlined in the Education Act”. Section 31 gives extensive detail on the Home Education Program requirements.
Canada is one of only three nations—the others being the United States of America and South Africa—that hosts a privately funded organization with full-time lawyers on staff that serves the legal needs of home educators. Such organizations not only contribute to the protection and standardization of the practice of home education, they serve educative and support functions that contribute to the legitimization and maturation of this relatively new form of education.
The above contribution was edited by Megen L. Zelinka, Barrister & Solicitor
Legal counsel for HSLDA Canada from the resource Allison D.J. and Neven Van Pelt D.A., in Glenn Ch. and De Groof J., Balancing Freedom, Autonomy, and Accountability in Education, Volume 3,
Nijmegen: Wolf Legal Publishers, 2012, p. 105-112.