Despite being surrounded by sea on three sides, you have no need to feel adrift when looking for schools in Vancouver. The standard of education is generally excellent with an abundance of choice in both the state and the private sectors. Looking for specific ‘international schools’ is almost unnecessary here as the International Baccalaureate is so readily available.
Private schools are selective and it's advisable to apply early as they are incredibly popular. Fees are generally paid annually before the start of the year and many have hidden costs such as family fees upon enrolment and tuition fees so beware of these.
Private schools are also chosen by parents for a particular offering or amenity. If you’re looking for a boarding school, there is St George’s School (all-boys and known for its rugby prowess) or York House (all-girls and heading for its centenary) or the co-ed option Brookes Westshore, with around 50 per cent international students. Dating back to the very end of the 19th C and probably the longest-established school in Vancouver is Crofton House School (all-girls) and another with a long pedigree is Glenlyon Norfolk School (1913) whilst amongst the relative pipsqueaks are, Mulgrave School (1991), renowned for being international and academic and calling itself the ‘International School of Vancouver’ and Collingwood School, named after a ship.
If you are considering sending your child to a state run school, the best place to start your research is at a website called the Fraser Institute which ranks all the state Schools in Vancouver. These are free to those with either permanent residency status or for those with work permits. The schools are divided into elementary schools and secondary schools. Elementary schools cater for children from kindergarten to grade 7 and secondary are grade 8 to grade 12.
In Vancouver you have a choice of two different curricula, either Canadian (leading to the BC Dogwood) or the International Baccalaureate Programmes. Either might include French immersion and in the case of the Canadian curriculum, Advanced Placement courses as well.
Parents tend to look at the curriculum offered, the catchment area (places can, quite often, be available outside your catchment area) and the specific needs of the child. Whatever curriculum or concept you choose, all students take the standard eight subjects until they leave school after grade 12. However, those taking the Canadian curriculum and wishing to get credits for university can apply to take AP courses in grade 11 and 12, for some of their subjects.
If you choose French immersion, you only have two entry points, either early French immersion in kindergarten, or late French immersion in grade 6. École Pauline Johnson offers French immersion as does École Cedardale which offers the International Baccalaureate Primary Years program within a French immersion format. All French immersion schools teach children entirely in French up until grade 8. There are also schools only offering a traditional French education such as, the romantically named École des Pionniers de Maillardville and École Gabrielle Roy.
Once in French immersion, students can then choose to continue this format into secondary school and attend a school such as Sentinel Secondary School, which offers both French immersion with the Canadian curriculum and AP, or they can swap to the Canadian curriculum taught in English. Sir Winston Churchill Secondary offers IBDP with French immersion. If the students complete French immersion through to Grade 12 they are awarded a bilingual status.
All the state schools offer different options at different ages, so it's important to understand which schools offer which curriculum, especially at secondary level. Some state secondary schools offer International Baccalaureate Middle Years program only, but not the International Baccalaureate Diploma. Whilst others offer the opposite so to continue down the IB route fully in the state system, it is likely your child will have to move schools in grade 11. However the state schooling system is very fluid in Vancouver and children move around a lot.
The school calendar
School intake in Canada is based on the calendar year of birth rather than the academic year. The first day of a new academic year in state schools is always the first Tuesday after Labour Day in September and on the first day the children attend for literally 2 hours, as this is apparently so the schools can see how many children they have and allocate the teachers accordingly. Confusingly they still call it the first day of term.
The teachers in state schools are all unionised and have lots of professional development days. The year is split into 3 terms - fall, winter and summer - There are no half terms in the state sector, however the students have a two week break between the winter and summer terms, one spring break week in March and then a long weekend in May before they break up at the end of June. The private sector determines its own term dates, has half terms and offers a more enriched academic environment overall.
On the Northshore, four state schools - Sentinel Secondary School, West Vancouver Secondary School, Handsworth Secondary and Rockridge Secondary - joined forces to offer Academies to any students wishing to focus on a certain sport or robotics. Students attend their own local schools in the morning, then may take the designated bus from their school to the academy of their choice.
Depending on popularity, some of these Academies are for the elite players, but generally they are open to any pupil who wishes to focus on a certain sport. The academies provide transportation from the schools three times a week taking students enrolled in whichever academy to their relevant destination. Although state schools are free, the academies do charge a monthly fee.
Most parents are from a similar demographic so it bridges the gap for students in the state system. Parents who send their children to the state schools often privately tutor them from grade 10 onwards to ensure they get into their chosen university. Bizarrely, you cannot fail in the state system before grade 10, however in grade 11 and 12 your school reports and attendance are sent to your potential universities, so grades and attendance matter. If you have work outstanding at the end of the academic year, the schools offer the last week to students needing to complete any outstanding work to ensure a pass.
For more information on schools, please go to The GSGI article ‘Best schools in Vancouver considered by expats’.
SEN, Gifted & Talented
As with any city, there are also specialist schools (mainly private) who cater for children needing that little bit extra, from gifted schools such as Alcuin College, in Lonsdale, to schools that specialise in dyslexia such as Brockton School in North Vancouver.
Sport is very popular in Vancouver with hockey, soccer, swimming etc running all year. The elite play for Metro or Gold depending on numbers and commitment. All the clubs in Metro Vancouver play each other so be ready to drive long distances for matches, whatever your standard and whatever the weather. They also practise late in the evenings on school nights and have matches at weekends.
No problem here with round pegs and square holes, Vancouver is a smorgasbord of schools. They not only offer the Canadian, French or IB curricula but also the option to explore most forms of sport and the arts, so you should be able to find a school, which is literally tailored for the individual child.