The 2019 report on Ontario schools, based on survey responses from 1254 principals across Ontario, points to evidence that the school environment—and all of the adults in it—are key drivers for students’ overall success.
The people who make a school
- On average, there are 22 teachers in each elementary school and 56 teachers in each high school.
- 46% of elementary schools and 92% of secondary schools have a vice-principal
- On average, there is one office staff for every 255 students in elementary schools, and one for every 196 in secondary schools.
- In 2019, 54% of elementary schools have at least one full or part-time teacher-librarian, compared to 80% in 1998.
- 27% of elementary schools in Northern Ontario have neither a library technician nor a teacher librarian.
- An average of 17% of students in each elementary school, and 27% of students in each secondary school, receive special education support.
- 60% of elementary and 53% of secondary schools report a restriction on the number of students who can be assessed each year.
- 58% of elementary schools in Northern Ontario have no access to a psychologist, compared to only 4% in the GTA.
- 81% of elementary schools and 95% of secondary schools offer Indigenous education opportunities
- 68% of elementary and 80% of secondary schools offer professional development for staff around Indigenous cultural issues; up from 25% and 34%, respectively, in 2014.
- 22% of elementary and 34% of secondary schools report having self-identified Indigenous staff.
Career and life planning, guidance, and streaming
- 33% of elementary schools with grades 7 and 8 have guidance counsellors.
- In secondary schools guidance counsellors are responsible for 375 students each, on average; in 10% of schools, the ratio is as high as 687 to one.
- Every student in secondary school is required to have an Individual Pathways Plan (IPP), but only 57% of schools report that all their students have IPPs.
Technology in the classroom
- 97% of elementary schools and 100% of secondary schools report that teachers use technology to communicate with students.
- 33% of elementary and 66% of secondary schools encourage students to “bring your own device” (BYOD) every day.
Fees and fundraising
- 85% of secondary schools report a student activity fee (with an average fee of $44).
- 26% of elementary schools report fundraising $20,000 or more, up from 7% in 2001, and 16% in 2015.
- Ontario schools raised a total of over $583 million through school-generated funds last year.
The world is changing rapidly. Students who enter grade one in September 2019 will graduate in June 2031. The world they step into will be profoundly different. By 2030, our planet’s population is projected to reach 8.6 billion — one billion more people than today (United Nations, 2017); Canada will likely be warmer, with more frequent instances of extreme weather and precipitation (Bush & Lemmen, 2019); and, as a result of technology advances, half of the jobs in Canada will require a different set of skills than they currently do (Royal Bank of Canada, 2018).
Students need more in their backpacks
To thrive in this rapidly changing world, students will need a broad set of adaptable and transferable skills. These are the new basics.
People for Education pictures a future where all young people graduate with the skills and competencies they need to lead healthy, happy, economically secure, and civically engaged lives. But to accomplish this goal, students need more skills in their backpacks than just literacy and numeracy. There is no doubt that those skills are foundational, but in order to prosper, young people must also develop a sense of self and society, creative and critical thinking skills, the ability to learn independently, collaboration skills, and effective communication.
This is a tall order, but it is of vital importance to all of us. To accomplish it, Ontario and Canada need strong public schools that offer the rich learning opportunities that allow students to develop these competencies (Bascia, 2014).
Learning environments reach beyond the classroom
Just as competencies are the “new basics” of public education, there are many components at play beyond the “basics” for schools. People are needed, including educators (principals, vice-principals, teachers of all kinds, early childhood educators, and others), psychologists, educational assistants, social workers, and custodians. Resources are also needed, including access to technology, library space, sports equipment, and professional learning time. In addition, the staff and students inside schools need connections to supports and learning beyond the school.
All of these components work together to create a healthy educational ecosystem that supports students to develop the competencies and skills they need for long-term success.
Modernizing education is vital, but coherent policy and leadership is key
To realize these ambitious goals for education, modernization is required—of curriculum, of classrooms, and of the education system itself. While change and evolution in public education are vital, careful planning and adequate resources are critical to ensure successful implementation of that change.
In March 2019, Ontario’s provincial government announced its plans for modernization, including better access to technology, more attention to skills that prepare students for jobs, and a renewed math strategy (Naylor, 2019a). The Ministry of Education also acknowledged the importance of transferable skills such as collaboration, problem-solving, and citizenship.
However, at the same time, the government reduced funding for the teachers and other supports that will play a key role in this modernization. The results of the 2019 Annual Ontario School Survey provide clear evidence that policy change requires both resources and coherent strategies to support its implementation:
- Indigenous Education policy implemented over the course of the last 10 years, including increased resources, revisions to curriculum, and support for professional development, has had a notable impact:
- 81% of elementary schools and 95% of secondary schools now offer Indigenous education opportunities, a steady increase since 2014, when the proportions were 34% and 61% respectively.
- Principals continue to struggle to implement Ontario’s Career and Life Planning Policy, which they say was put in place too quickly, and with insufficient resources and professional development to support it:
- Only 57% of secondary schools report students have the Individual Pathways Plans that are mandatory in the policy.
- Guidance counsellors play a key role in the implementation of the policy, but only 33% of elementary schools with grades 7 and 8 have them, and in secondary schools, guidance counsellors are responsible for, on average, 375 students each. In 10% of high schools, the ratio is as high as 687 to one.
- Ontario’s policy for fees and fundraising has not addressed the impact of family income on schools’ capacity to raise money for things like technology, libraries, and classroom supplies:
- Ontario schools raised a combined total of over $583 million through school-generated funds.
- Among fundraising secondary schools, the top 5% of schools raised as much as the bottom 82% combined, with some schools reporting raising $220,000.
- On average, schools in high socio-economic areas (with higher parental levels of education and higher family incomes) fundraise twice as much as schools in low socio-economic areas.
- Special education policy and funding has evolved over a number of years, but it has not kept pace with the reality in schools:
- An average of 17% of students in each elementary school, and 27% of students in each secondary school, receive special education support, up from 9% and 14% respectively in 2000.
- 60% of elementary and 53% of secondary schools report that there are restrictions on the number of students who can be assessed for special education identification each year.
- 58% of elementary schools in Northern Ontario have no access to a psychologist, compared to only 4% in the GTA.
Monitoring the impact of policy and funding changes
Over the next few years, People for Education’s Annual Ontario School Survey will provide an invaluable source of longitudinal data to keep track of the impact of policy and funding changes as they are implemented in Ontario schools.
The people who make a school
Approximately two million students attend publicly funded schools in Ontario (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2018a).
There are 22 teachers, on average, in each elementary school, and 56 teachers, on average, in each high school.
46% of elementary schools have a vice-principal: 25% have at least one full-time VP, and 22% have a part-time VP.
92% of secondary schools have a vice-principal; 89% have at least one full-time VP, and 4% have a part-time VP.
On average, there is one office staff for every 255 students in elementary schools, and one for every 196 in secondary schools.
In elementary schools, there is an average of one custodian for every 198 students. In secondary schools the ratio is 1:231.
Every day, parents across the province send their children to their local public school so that they can develop the knowledge, skills, and understanding they need to thrive throughout their lives.
An ecosystem for quality education
Educators work hard to ensure that students develop a strong foundation of academic knowledge, as well as the competencies and skills necessary to grow into resilient, empathetic individuals who engage in healthy relationships, have a sense of their own voice, are economically secure, and can tackle problems from multiple perspectives. To develop these skills, students need a diverse range of learning opportunities.
Creating quality learning environments is a team effort. Quality learning environments can be thought of as nested layers; with each layer interacting and responding to the others (Bascia, 2014; see Figure 1).
Figure 1: The nested context model of learning environments
“In [this model], classrooms as settings for learning and teaching are ‘nested’ within teacher communities, which are nested within schools, which are nested within the wider community. This means that what occurs beyond the classroom influences (and is influenced by) what occurs within the classroom” (Bascia, 2014, p. 6).
Educating two million students a day
Approximately two million students attend publicly funded English, English Catholic, French, and French Catholic schools across Ontario (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2018a). This represents 94% of Ontario’s students (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2018d).
Ontario has almost 4,000 publicly funded elementary schools and just under 900 secondary schools. Approximately two thirds of elementary schools serve students from kindergarten to grade 8. Schools can also be K-5, grades 6-8 only, kindergarten only, or K-12.
In 2019, elementary schools have an average of 363 students per school, with school populations ranging from as few as five pupils to over a thousand. Secondary schools have an average enrolment of 840 students, with 21% of schools serving over 1200 students.
Since the 2002-2003 school year, Ontario has seen a fairly steady decline in the number of students enrolled in public schools. However, in the 2017-2018 school year, public school enrolment increased (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2018a; see Figure 2).
Figure 2: Total enrolment in Ontario public schools, in millions
Diverse students, diverse needs
At the core of a quality learning environment is the classroom—the relationships between students and teachers.
Students bring a wealth of experiences and perspectives to their classrooms. Over a third of Ontarians are immigrants to Canada, and data from the Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) show that 11% of grade 3 and 6 students are born outside of Canada (EQAO, 2018a).
Ontario boasts many multilingual students. Using EQAO student questionnaire data from English-language schools, we calculated that 23% of students first learned a language other than English, and 17% speak other languages as often as English at home (EQAO 2018a, 2018b). Approximately one in ten students attending English-language schools is an English language learner (EQAO 2018a, 2018b), while three in ten students in French-language schools are getting support with second language acquisition (EQAO, 2018c).
“Our community is a very multicultural and diverse part of our city. Our families face many challenges, from poverty and homelessness to crime and both physical and mental health struggles. However, our school is vibrant and a place that the students and staff take pride in…Our school truly is a home for our students. They regard their classmates and the staff as family.”
– Secondary school, Ottawa CSB
In 2016, 2.8% of Ontarians self-identified as Indigenous, and two thirds live off-reserve (Statistics Canada, 2017a). This population is one of the youngest and fastest growing in Canada (Statistics Canada, 2017b), and an estimated 64,000 Indigenous students attend Ontario’s publicly funded schools (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2018e p. 64).
Students in Ontario come from homes with a range of material and social resources. Socio-economic status, a common way to refer to these resources, is often measured using a combination of indicators related to education, employment, and income. Students coming from higher socio-economic status households are more likely to have positive educational outcomes in school—both in terms of their academic achievement and social-emotional development (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2018).
“This is a wonderful school community with many caring adults. There is a vibrant school spirit and Intramural program enjoyed by students in Grade 1 to 8, and from these experiences, many of our graduates are participating in high school leadership opportunities.”
– Elementary school, Wellington CDSB
In 2015, 18% of children in Ontario were living below the Low-Income Measure, and this increased to 20% for children aged 0-5 (Statistics Canada, 2017c). The median income for families with children was approximately $99,0001. Children also come from families with a range of educational experiences: 12% of adults in Ontario aged 25-64 have no high school diploma, while almost a third have a bachelor’s or higher degree2.
School staff: supporting student learning and growth
In the 2017-2018 school year, Ontario’s students were taught by over 125,000 full-time equivalent (FTE) teachers and more than 9,000 FTE early childhood educators (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2018a). In 2019, elementary schools have an average of 22 FTE teachers, and secondary schools have, on average, 56 FTE teachers.
But these teachers do not work alone.
Schools are also home to many professionals who support students’ development and ensure that the school is an optimal place for learning. Schools may have psychologists3, public health nurses, attendance counsellors, Indigenous mental health workers, occupational therapists, settlement workers, or other specialists working in tandem with educators to support students. Education assistants, custodians, office staff, lunchroom monitors, IT specialists, and others also support student learning by maintaining school facilities, ensuring student safety, and supporting the administrative functioning of schools. All of these adults contribute to the quality of students’ learning environments.
“Our staff works tirelessly to support our students. We are well supported with board resources, staffing and personnel support…With a significant proportion of students who self-identify as First Nations, we are fortunate to have the support of an Aboriginal Support Worker, language instructor and language teacher. We are able to support our students who self-identify with this personnel and the resources available…Our school is a wonderful place to be – a community hub, educational institution and centre for excellence that supports our students, families and communities.”
– Elementary school, Rainbow DSB
The school office is a hub of activity in both elementary and secondary schools. The main office is home to school leadership (principal and vice-principals) and office staff. Office staff maintain school records, communicate with parents, manage school attendance, and play a fundamental role in school safety. In many schools, the office staff are the gatekeepers to the building, monitoring entry to the school and signing guests in. They are also the people who interact most with principals, particularly in elementary schools (Pollock, 2014). In 2019, there is one office staff for every 255 students in elementary schools, and one for every 196 in secondary schools.
School custodians support the school in many ways, ensuring healthy and functioning facilities. Custodians play a critical role in keeping schools clean and addressing health and safety issues. In elementary schools, there is an average of one custodian for every 198 students, and in secondary schools the ratio is 1:231. On last year’s Annual Ontario School Survey, 22% of principals in elementary schools reported that managing facilities was the most time-consuming part of their jobs (People for Education, 2018a, 2018b).
“The custodian works 5.5 hours. 7- 9 am and 2- 5:30 pm. The hours in between I am responsible for the custodian duties that arise (toilet cleaning, cleaning bodily fluids, shoveling walkway if we have lots of snow fall, putting out sand on the parking lot in winter months). I also teach for .5 of the day as LRT (special education) and Reading Recovery teacher and have full Principal duties.”
– Elementary school, Huron Superior CDSB
Professional support for students and staff
School professionals help to develop staff capacity, as well as providing therapy and direct support to students.
- 30% of elementary and 36% of secondary schools have regularly scheduled psychologists.
- 48% of elementary and 80% of secondary schools have regularly scheduled social workers.
- 38% of elementary and 52% of secondary schools have regularly scheduled child and youth workers.
- 47% of elementary and 4% of secondary schools have regularly scheduled speech language pathologists.
The school principal is central to the quality of a school’s learning environment. Principals set the strategic direction for the staff, maintain community and parent relationships, handle issues of student safety, and manage the financial resources of the school. The range of responsibilities that fall on a principal’s shoulders can be a source of strain. Our findings from 2018 show that principals are struggling to fulfill their role as curriculum leaders while coping with the administrative workload (People for Education, 2018a).
“Principals and vice-principals are feeling increasingly overwhelmed by the number of initiatives they are responsible for. The risk of burn out has increased dramatically over the past 10-15 years. Principals and vice principals wish to focus on instructional leadership, but they must spend time on other organizational challenges such as Plant or Facilities issues, IT, HR, mental health of students and staff, health and safety legislation, transportation, finance, etc.”
– Secondary school, Renfrew County DSB
Vice-principals (VPs) support principals in their work. While less than half of elementary schools have a VP, almost all secondary schools have one. In Ontario, there are approximately 7,300 FTE principals and vice-principals (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2018a).
- 46% of elementary schools have a VP: 25% have at least one full-time VP, and 22% have a part-time VP.
- 92% of secondary schools have a VP: 89% have at least one full-time VP, and 4% have a part-time VP.
- Among elementary schools with a VP, the average ratio is one VP for every 740 students, and in secondary schools it is 1:512.
- Elementary schools with a VP (part- or full-time) have an average of 504 students; elementary schools with no VP have an average of 242 students.
As we develop education policy to ensure that our public education system evolves to meet the long-term needs of both students and society, it is vital to view our schools as existing in an educational ecosystem. This ecosystem has many dimensions, including school culture, extracurricular learning opportunities, and the community beyond the school. A properly resourced educational ecosystem is necessary to support students in developing the skills and competencies they need to thrive.
1 The median after-tax income for couple economic families with children in 2015 was $99,205 (Statistics Canada, 2017c).
2 This is based on Ontario averages included in data that was shared directly with People for Education from Statistics Canada.
3 In this document the term “psychologist” includes registered psychologists and registered psychological associates, as well as supervised non-registered psychology service providers in schools.
The evolving role of school libraries
This is an excerpt from our Connecting to Success: Technology in Ontario Schools report, released in April 2019.
54% of elementary schools have at least one full or part-time teacher-librarian, compared to 80% in 1998.
Three-quarters of elementary schools in Central Ontario and the GTA are staffed with only a teacher librarian, while 67% of those in Eastern and 58% of those in Northern Ontario are staffed with only a library technician.
27% of elementary schools in Northern Ontario have neither a library technician nor a teacher librarian.
Over the past few years, more schools have been transforming their library into a Learning Commons—a collaborative space where technology is integrated with the traditional library. In a Learning Commons, classes can access school-wide resources such as robotics kits, specialized software, and computer labs. Students enrolled in e-learning courses can also use this learning space to work independently.
“A Learning Commons is a vibrant, whole-school approach, presenting exciting opportunities for collaboration among teachers, teacher librarians, and students. Within a Learning Commons, new relationships are formed between learners, new technologies are realized and utilized, and both students and educators prepare for the future as they learn new ways to learn…best of all, as a space traditionally and naturally designed to facilitate people working together, a school’s library provides the natural dynamics for developing a Learning Commons” (Ontario School Library Association, 2010, p. 3).
The Learning Commons model has changed the teacher librarian role from gatekeeper of books to facilitator of competencies, research skills, and technical knowledge (Rizk, 2018). However, many principals report that they are unable to keep libraries open and staffed all day. In 2019, among elementary schools with teacher librarians, the average ratio is one teacher librarian for every 805 students. In secondary schools, that ratio increases to 1 to 1,007.
Shifting trend in library staffing
Over the last 20 years, the proportion of elementary schools with teacher librarians has been steadily declining, while there has been an increase in schools with library technicians.
Library technicians and teacher librarians play different roles in maintaining a successful library space. Library technicians are responsible for developing, organizing, and maintaining library resources, while teacher librarians work with classroom teachers in planning, teaching, and assessment of students. Library technicians play a supportive role and operate between a clerk and a librarian (Canadian Library Association, 2011), while teacher librarians are Ontario Certified Teachers with specialist qualifications in librarianship (James, Shamchuk, & Koch, 2015).
“We have had incredible success with our librarian partnering with every classroom for literacy, makerspace, and technology. We are going to have our librarian work on math as well during library time.
— Elementary school, Simcoe County DSB
This year, 54% of elementary schools have at least one full or part-time teacher librarian, a number that has stayed relatively steady over the last ten years, but which is significantly below levels in the late 1990’s, when 80% of elementary schools had teacher librarians (see Figure 3). In 2019, 43% of elementary schools report having a library technician, compared to 16% in 1999.
This may be a result of salary differences. School boards receive funding from the Ministry for one teacher librarian for every 763 elementary students and one librarian for every 909 secondary students, at the rate of $76,210 (before benefits; Ontario Ministry of Education, 2018c). By contrast, the average annual salary for library technicians ranges from $30,000 – $60,000 (PayScale, 2019). This funding is generated by student enrolment, and is given to boards in a lump payment. The funds can be used to hire teacher librarians or library technicians—there is no requirement to spend this money in a particular way.
“Not enough hours to fully utilize it as it is becoming so much more than a library—maker space, learning commons, robotics, etc. Teacher Librarian role is so important, and we do not get enough of her!”
— Elementary school, York Catholic DSB
“We would like our Library to be a Learning commons and HUB for our school. Difficult when we only have a Teacher Librarian for 1/3 of the instructional day.”
— Elementary school, Halton DSB
Figure 3: Library staff in Ontario schools
Board policies on library staffing
Given the flexibility of the funding provided for library staff, school boards have different policies about what type of staff to hire. This year, we asked school principals how their boards generally staff school libraries.
Thirty-seven percent of elementary schools report that their board staffs libraries only with teacher librarians, while 32% report that the policy is to staff libraries only with library technicians (see Figure 4).
Figure 4: Board policies about library staffing in elementary schools
Board policies about library staffing vary regionally, with Northern and Eastern boards tending to hire library technicians more than teacher librarians. This year, 37% of elementary and 22% of secondary schools report having only a library technician at their school.
Regional and demographic inequities
School libraries are staffed differently across the province. Elementary schools in Central Ontario and the GTA are more likely to be staffed with only a teacher librarian, while those in Eastern and Northern Ontario are more likely to be staffed with only a library technician (see Figure 5). In Northern Ontario, 27% of schools have neither a library technician nor a teacher librarian.
Differences in library staffing also exist along socio-economic lines. Sixty-three percent of schools in high-income neighbourhoods report a teacher librarian, compared to 48% of schools in low-income neighbourhoods.
Figure 5: Library staff in elementary schools across Ontario
The world is undergoing a revolution in terms of technology, access to information, and global interconnectedness. At the same time, the traditional school library is evolving into a diversified learning space, where teachers and students not only access books, but also engage with a wide range of technology and resources, and develop collaborative cross-curricular projects. The capacity for school libraries to act as Learning Commons can be a key part of schools’ infrastructure.
An average of 17% of students in each elementary school, and 27% of students in each secondary school, receive special education support.
60% of elementary and 53% of secondary schools report that there are restrictions on the number of students who can be assessed each year.
92% of elementary schools and 94% of secondary schools report that students waiting for an assessment are receiving some special education support.
In Ontario, special education support is offered to students who have a wide range of needs—including, but not limited to, learning disabilities, giftedness, behavioural challenges, and physical exceptionalities. Special education programs and services help to ensure that all students benefit fully from their school experience.
IEPs, IPRCs, and rights
In Ontario, approximately half of the students receiving special education support go through a formal Identification, Placement, and Review Committee (IPRC) process, which typically includes a psycho-educational assessment (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2018b). Students with IPRC identification have a legal right to special education support (Education Act, 1990). The remainder of students accessing special education services typically have Individual Education Plans (IEPs). Data from the Ontario Ministry of Education show that, while the proportion of students going through the IPRC process has remained relatively stable since 2006-2007, the proportion of students with IEPs has been steadily increasing (see Figure 6)4.
Figure 6: Proportion of students with IEPs and IPRCs in Ontario
In 2018, the Ontario Human Rights Commission released a policy addressing accessible education for students with disabilities. The policy states that education providers must accommodate disability-related needs “whether or not a student with a disability falls within the Ministry’s definition of ‘exceptional pupil,’ and whether or not the student has gone through a formal IPRC process, or has an IEP” (Ontario Human Rights Commission, 2018, p. 13).
Access to resources
Special education services can take the form of a little extra support in the classroom, accompanied by an IEP. However, it can also include resources such as educational assistants, support personnel, and specialized equipment.
In the survey, some principals raised concerns about insufficient staff support, including special education teachers and educational assistants (EAs), while others identified constraints in special education services due to limited access to psychologists5, social workers, and child and youth workers.
In those schools sharing success stories in special education, the principals cited the important role that psychologists, social workers, educational assistants, and special education teachers play in enhancing the school environment for students with special education needs.
- An average of 17% of students in each elementary school, and 27% of students in each secondary school, receive special education support.
- The average ratio per school of students receiving special education support to special education teachers is 38:1 in elementary schools and 77:1 in secondary schools.
- The average ratio per school of students receiving special education support to EAs is 23:1 in elementary schools and 52:1 in secondary schools.
“Large class sizes impact the teacher to student ratio. Students with special education needs require greater support and more teacher one-on-one time. Large class sizes make this challenging. Having more special education teachers would help to reduce this challenge by decreasing the teacher to student ratio.”
– Elementary school, Peel DSB
Psychologists are a vital component of special education support in Ontario. These professionals assess students’ special education needs, design interventions for students, and provide direct support to both students and the staff supporting them (Ontario Psychological Association, 2013). Northern school boards report the highest percentage of schools (58%) without access to a psychologist (see Figure 7). This may be due to the difficulty of traveling to more isolated schools in Ontario’s rural North. According to a 2017 report, the cost associated with travel and housing for specialized staff have contributed to a lack of support for students with special education needs in Northern and isolated First Nations communities (Ontario First Nation Special Education Working Group, 2017).
Figure 7: Percent of elementary schools with no psychologist available, by region
Some principals also report a lack of physical space at schools to accommodate staff such as social workers, psychologists, and EAs while they are working with students.
“The challenge is managing the amount of therapists in our school at any given time. Space is limited and we don’t have rooms to accommodate the different types of therapy.”
– Elementary school, Huron Superior CDSB
Student assessment waitlists
Teachers are the first point of contact in assessing a student’s learning needs. If needed, a combination of in-school teams and outside professionals may assist the teacher in the assessment. In some cases, the in-school team may refer a student for a professional assessment to determine if they have specific health, speech, psychological, or language needs (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2017b). Schools manage and prioritise the waitlists for these assessments based on students’ needs.
This year, 94% of elementary and 81% of secondary schools report having students on waiting lists for professional assessments, a slight increase from last year (93% and 79% respectively in 2018). On average, there are six students in each elementary and four students in each secondary school waiting for a professional assessment.
As an alternative to long wait times for special education identification assessment, parents who can afford to may choose to have their child assessed privately. According to the Ontario Human Rights Commission (2018), unreasonable delays in receiving professional assessment or accommodations may constitute a breach of the Ontario Human Rights Code for students with disabilities, whether or not that student has been previously identified through the IPRC process.
“Currently we need to encourage parents to pay for private assessment because we don’t have enough psychologists to do assessments.”
– Elementary school, Upper Grand DSB
“There are limits to the number of students that can be assessed by the school board, but parents do a lot of assessments in the private sector.”6
– Elementary school, CEC du Centre-Est de l’Ontario
In 2018, the provincial government announced an additional $125 million over three years to reduce waitlists for special education assessments (Williams, 2018). The purpose of this funding is to pay for professionals such as psychologists or speech language pathologists, in order to ensure that students can be assessed quickly and at no cost. However, schools report ongoing challenges with waitlists:
- 60% of elementary schools report restrictions on the number of special education assessments each year, returning to previous levels after a recent rise to 66% (see Figure 8).
- Only 30% of elementary schools report regularly scheduled access to psychologists, down from 38% two years ago.
Figure 8: Percent of schools reporting a restriction on the number of students to be assessed
One of the things contributing to long wait times is the lack of specialists such as school board psychologists (Ontario Psychological Association, 2016). School psychologists are not mandated in Ontario. It is up to school boards to decide whether to have psychologists, and to determine the number they will have. Some boards employ external contractors to conduct psycho-educational assessments.
Recently, school boards across Ontario have had difficulty filling vacancies for school psychologists. According to the Ontario Psychological Association (2018), 7% of the school board-employed psychology positions across the province were vacant in 2018. This may be contributing to the rising percentage of schools without regularly scheduled access to psychologists (see Figure 9).
- This year, 22% of elementary schools and 21% of secondary schools report that they have no psychologist available.
- These numbers are up from 2016 when 13% of elementary schools and 16% of secondary schools reported they had no psychologist available.
Figure 9: Access to psychologists in elementary schools
Students who are on a waitlist may still be receiving some support. In 2019, 88% of elementary schools and 85% of secondary schools report that students waiting for professional assessments have IEPs. Ninety-two percent of elementary and 94% of secondary schools provide special education support to students who are on the waitlist.
“Special education continues to be a problematic area in Ontario schools. The number of students requiring support is on the rise, yet financial resources are continuously cut. This translates to fewer special education teachers, fewer educational assistants, and less funds for resources that special education students need. Principals are becoming increasingly frustrated and burnt out by this situation. Parents are making more demands at the local school level, yet principals do not have the resources to fulfill these demands.”
– Dufferin-Peel CDSB
Despite years of adjustments to policy and funding for special education, principals continue to report this as one of their greatest areas of strain. And the proportion of students requiring/receiving special education support has increased steadily over the last two decades. Ontario’s special education policy is based on the principle of inclusion—that every child, no matter what their learning needs, should have the opportunity to learn and thrive, and to be included in the education system. However, it appears that system supports are not matching students’ needs.
4 Data retrieved from Ontario School Information System (OnSIS) for 2006-2018. 2017-2018 data are preliminary as of April 2019
5 In this document the term “psychologist” includes registered psychologists and registered psychological associates, as well as supervised non-registered psychology service providers in schools.
6 Translated from French. Original comment: “Il y a des limites quant au nombre d’élèves qui peuvent être évalués par le conseil scolaire, cependant les parents font beaucoup d’évaluation au privé.”
81% of elementary schools and 95% of secondary schools offer Indigenous education opportunities, a steady increase since 2014, when the proportions were 34% and 61% respectively.
68% of elementary and 80% of secondary schools offer professional development for staff around Indigenous cultural issues; up from 25% and 34%, respectively, in 2014.
Only 34% of secondary schools and 22% of elementary schools report having any self-identified Indigenous staff. Schools with Indigenous staff are more likely to have more Indigenous learning opportunities.
In 2013, 92% of elementary and 96% of secondary schools had Indigenous students (People for Education, 2013).
Ontario’s First Nations, Métis and Inuit Education Policy Framework has been in place since 2007. This policy, along with the province’s commitment to acting on the Calls to Action from Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, appears to have had an impact on provincial education funding and the focus on Indigenous education in schools across the province (Government of Ontario, 2016). The goals of the now-renamed Indigenous Education Strategy are to boost Indigenous student achievement, close gaps in achievement, and ensure all students have an understanding of Indigenous cultures, experiences, and perspectives (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2007).
Since 2014, when People for Education first began tracking Indigenous education opportunities in Ontario schools, principals have reported many changes to ensure Indigenous knowledge, experiences, and perspectives are taught and acknowledged in their school environments.
Along with an increase in Indigenous education learning opportunities, many boards have adopted the practice of starting the school day with a land acknowledgement, and there has been a significant increase in the proportion of schools that consult with Indigenous communities on education priorities.
Providing opportunities for staff, students, and community
For the last five years, we have been asking principals about Indigenous education opportunities in their schools—from professional development for teachers, to Indigenous language and First Nations, Métis, and Inuit Studies courses for students. Over that time, the number of schools reporting these opportunities has dramatically increased. This year, 81% of elementary schools and 95% of secondary schools report at least one Indigenous education opportunity—up from 34% and 59% respectively, in 2014 (see Figure 10).
Figure 10: Percentage of schools offering Indigenous education opportunities
Indigenous students in Ontario’s publicly funded schools
The vast majority of Indigenous students attend provincially funded schools. In 2012, it was estimated there were 64,000 Indigenous students in Ontario’s publicly funded schools (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2018e).
When discussing Indigenous education in Canada, people often think of on-reserve education. Schools on reserves are run by Indigenous governments and funded by the Federal government. In 2017-2018, approximately 13,200 students attended on-reserve elementary and secondary schools7.
These schools face considerable challenges, and often have worrying outcomes. The gap between graduation rates for Indigenous students on-reserve (37% in 2001 and 49% in 2016) vs. other Canadian students (67% in 2001 and 82% in 2016) has increased over the last 15 years (Office of the Auditor General of Canada, 2018). One key challenge is funding: the Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer (2016) calculated the funding gap between provincially-funded and on-reserve education was likely to be $665 million in 2016-2017, amounting to thousands of dollars per student. In April 2019, the federal government announced a new funding approach to ensure base funding for education is comparable to provincial systems across the country (Indigenous Services Canada, 2019).
In the provincially funded system, there is considerable variation in the proportion of Indigenous students in each school board. Reported levels of self-identified students range from 43% in Keewatin-Patricia to 0.3% in the Toronto District School Board (Keewatin-Patricia District School Board, n.d., Toronto District School Board, 2017).
A core aspect of Ontario’s Indigenous Education Strategy is voluntary student self-identification, which allows schools to target supports, and the system to track Indigenous students’ progress. It has taken almost a decade for the program to be implemented across the province. From 2013 to 2016 (last available data), the rate of self-identification increased annually to 63% of the 64,000 students that census data suggests (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2018e).
Despite the increase in self-identification, in their comments, principals continue to be concerned that students are not self-identifying, limiting the school’s capacity to meet their needs. Research shows that students are more likely to self-identify if there is support and acknowledgement around Indigenous issues (Dunstan, Hewitt, & Tomaszewski, 2017).
“We have a very small population of self-identified students, so there is a belief on staff that there is no “need” for interventions or initiatives. We need to challenge that mindset.”
– Secondary School, Ottawa-Carleton DSB
In 2016, the province of Ontario committed to implementing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (2015) Calls to Action #62 and #63, related to Education for Reconciliation, calling for mandatory, “age-appropriate curriculum on residential schools, Treaties, and [Indigenous] peoples’ historical and contemporary contributions to Canada” (p. 7).
In 2017, Ontario began a process to transform kindergarten to grade 12 curricula to include mandatory learning about residential schools, the legacy of colonialism, and the rights and responsibilities of treaties, as well as Indigenous histories, cultures, perspectives, and contributions (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2018f).
“The revised curriculum includes grade-appropriate learning opportunities to support mandatory learning about the impact of colonialism and the rights and responsibilities of all people in Canada with respect to understanding the shared history and building the collective future in the spirit of reconciliation. Promoting greater awareness of Indigenous histories, cultures, perspectives, and contributions is one of many steps on Ontario’s journey of healing and reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.”
– Strengthening our Learning Journey (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2018f p. 12)
Researchers have found that changes in the curriculum to highlight Indigenous issues are more likely to be fully implemented by teachers who have knowledge and confidence in this area (Dion, Johnston, & Rice, 2010; Ontario College of Teachers, 2013). They have also identified educational gaps among educators that affect their capacity to teach these aspects of the curriculum (Dion, Johnston, & Rice, 2010).
In their survey responses, principals identify professional development for teachers as the most common Indigenous education opportunity: 68% of elementary and 80% of secondary schools report that teachers received PD relating to Indigenous education this year, compared to 25% and 34% in 2014 (see Figure 11).
Figure 11: Schools reporting PD around Indigenous cultural issues
“Staff are still at the beginning stages of awareness around Indigenous education and therefore are currently unaware of where to access and how to incorporate material into their lessons.”
– Secondary school, Peel DSB
Incorporating Indigenous knowledge & perspectives
Beyond daily land acknowledgements, principals report a range of ways their schools have evolved to include Indigenous knowledge and experiences.
According to this year’s survey findings:
- 15% of elementary and 32% of secondary schools incorporate Indigenous ceremonies into the school year.
- 49% of elementary and 72% of secondary schools bring in Indigenous guest speakers.
- 63% of secondary schools offer First Nation, Métis, & Inuit Studies courses.
- 3% of elementary and 11% of secondary schools offer Indigenous language programs.
Principals also report that they commemorate the legacy of residential schools with Orange Shirt Day, and some schools organize events around missing and murdered Indigenous women. Other activities include planting Indigenous gardens, creating murals, hosting Indigenous artists, and promoting lacrosse as an Indigenous sport.
In their comments, principals also shared innovative approaches to support Indigenous education: for example, having students earn mandatory English credits through First Nation, Métis, & Inuit Studies, and having drama and arts teachers incorporate Indigenous themes as the basis of whole courses.
“Initiatives that have increased awareness for students and staff have allowed a richer approach to learning and the arts.”
– Secondary school, Halton DSB
“Students report liking the opportunity to study Indigenous texts – fiction and non-fiction – and to be learning about current issues.”
– Secondary school, Limestone DSB
“A challenge is having French-speaking human resources related to Indigenous education.”
– Elementary school, CSDSB des Aurores-Boréales8
Indigenous staff in Ontario schools
One of the goals of the Indigenous Education Strategy is to significantly increase “the number of Indigenous teaching and non-teaching staff in school boards across Ontario” (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2007, p. 21). However, because school boards are not required to report on this measure, it is difficult to determine if there has been any progress.
For the last two years, People for Education has asked principals whether they have staff in their schools who self-identify as Indigenous.
- 20% of elementary school principals report they have staff who self-identify as Indigenous, 64% do not have Indigenous staff, and 16% are not sure.
- 34% of secondary school principals report they have Indigenous staff, 43% do not have Indigenous staff, and 23% are not sure.
- In Northern Ontario, over a third of elementary schools have at least one Indigenous staff member; in the GTA, only 14% of schools have at least one.
The presence of Indigenous staff appears to make a difference in students’ exposure to Indigenous learning opportunities.
- 43% of elementary schools with Indigenous staff report having programs designed specifically to boost Indigenous achievement; while only 24% of schools with no Indigenous staff have these initiatives.
- 49% of secondary schools with Indigenous staff have programs to close the achievement gap, compared to only 29% of schools with no Indigenous staff.
Closing the achievement gap
A 2018 progress report on the Indigenous education strategy revealed marginal gains in closing literacy and numeracy gaps, and a graduation rate for First Nations students that remains 26% lower than the provincial average (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2018f). Credit accumulation among First Nations, Métis, and Inuit students trail provincial averages at all levels of high school (see Figure 12; Ontario Ministry of Education, 2018e).
Figure 12: Percentage of Ontario students with 8 or more credits at the end of grade 9
In the survey, we asked principals if they have initiatives that specifically target Indigenous student achievement.
- 29% of elementary schools and 39% of secondary schools report having initiatives targeting Indigenous student achievement.
- 40% of Northern elementary schools have such initiatives, compared to less than 30% of elementary schools in other regions of Ontario.
Principals’ descriptions of the initiatives range widely. Many point to school-wide initiatives that support learning about Indigenous-Canadian relations and promoting an inclusive school culture (see above). Others offer innovative programs that integrate academic and social supports specifically directed at closing gaps, including peer and community mentorship, board-wide Indigenous leadership programs, Indigenous student clubs, and targeted scholarships.
Some schools report dedicated staff, including Indigenous Support Workers, Cultural Workers, or Indigenous Student Advisors. In these schools, many principals report weekly meetings with the specialized staff.
Connecting to community
In light of the history of residential schools and structural barriers to participation, many schools recognize the need to foster active connections with Indigenous communities beyond the school walls, including consultation on goals and practices to promote success for Indigenous students.
Principals in 22% of elementary schools and 40% of secondary schools report that they consult with Indigenous community members about educational priorities. This proportion has nearly doubled in the past five years.
Figure 13: Elementary schools that consult with Indigenous community members about educational priorities, by region
A number of principals mention significant out-of-school challenges facing Indigenous students. Some schools in Northern Ontario highlight the challenges faced by students who are forced to leave their home communities for high school. Others mention direct relationships with nearby First Nations that bring funding—for example, for a support worker or coach—into schools. Several secondary school principals acknowledge the importance of building connections with on-reserve elementary “feeder” schools, whose graduates come to their schools.
Ontario schools have made progress in Indigenous education over the past few years: more students are taking First Nations, Métis, and Inuit Studies courses; more schools are providing professional development for teachers; schools now offer a range of Indigenous education opportunities; and principals report a commitment to outreach to Indigenous communities. Despite these steps, more can be done to support teachers’ knowledge of Indigenous content and pedagogy, and to ensure both that Indigenous students are being supported to succeed, and that all students graduate with the knowledge and experiences that support reconciliation.
7 This statistic comes from a data request of the Government of Canada through the Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada and Indigenous Services Canada.
8 Translated from French. Original comment: “Défi: avoir des ressources humaines francophones en lien avec l’éducation des Autochtones.”
Career and life planning, guidance, and streaming
This is an excerpt from our Roadmaps and Roadblocks report, released in February 2019.
33% of elementary schools with grades 7 and 8 have guidance counsellors.
In secondary schools guidance counsellors are responsible for 375 students each, on average; in 10% of schools, the ratio is as high as 687 to one.
Every student in secondary school is required to have an Individual Pathways Plan (IPP), but only 57% of schools report that all their students have IPPs.
One of the main purposes of schooling is to prepare students for their future. As students develop, both academically and personally, the school system provides support and navigational aids along the way. More than that, it helps shape opportunities for the future. And sometimes, it creates barriers.
The reality is that the challenges and opportunities faced by students in this century are unlike those of any previous generation, and that all students today require specific knowledge and skills in education and career/life planning to support them in making sound choices throughout their lives.
– Creating Pathways to Success: An Education and Career/Life Planning Program for Ontario Schools (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2013, p.6)
Ontario’s Creating Pathways to Success policy includes guidelines for the use of portfolios, school-based career and life planning committees, and professional development for teachers. The policy is framed around a four-step inquiry process for all students, from kindergarten through to graduation:
- Knowing yourself: Who am I?
- Exploring opportunities: What are my opportunities?
- Making decisions and setting goals: Who do I want to become?
- Achieving goals and making transitions: What is my plan for achieving my goals?
This process is to be embedded “across all subjects, courses, and daily learning activities” (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2013, p. 10). However, there are a number of challenges in ensuring that all students can navigate their way to the future they choose.
According to this year’s survey findings:
- Only 23% of elementary schools have guidance counsellors. While this is a sizeable increase over last year, these supports are not available for most students making the transition to high school.
- In secondary schools, guidance counsellors are, on average, responsible for 375 students each.
- It is mandatory for every student in secondary school to have an Individual Pathways Plan (IPP), but only 57% of high schools report that all students have IPPs.
Elementary school: Supporting self-knowledge and exploration
“This is just one more thing for teachers to manage when they are already overwhelmed with covering curriculum and managing behaviour, anxiety, learning needs, parents, etc.”
– Elementary school, York Region DSB
Under the original Creating Pathways policy, every student in elementary school up to grade 6 was required to have an All About Me portfolio, and every school was required to have a Career/Life Planning Program Advisory Committee, with membership including school administration, guidance counsellors, teachers, parents, community members, and students.
“As the All About Me portfolios are not mandatory, and they are work intensive, teachers do not choose to use them.”
– Elementary school, Kawartha Pine Ridge DSB
In 2017, the province made All About Me portfolios and advisory committees optional (Rodrigues, 2017). Since that time, the percentage of schools reporting that all students have All About Me portfolios has declined from 32% to 19%, and schools reporting Career/Life Planning Program Advisory Committees has declined from 15% to 14%.
In the elementary schools that do have advisory committees, membership is mostly staff. Very few schools report involvement of parents (12%), community members (7%), or students (14%). However, having a committee appears to have an impact on professional development: 49% of elementary schools with advisory committees offer professional development for teachers around career and life planning, compared to 17% of schools without committees.
Another challenge that principals face is the lack of guidance support. This year, only 23% of elementary schools have a guidance counsellor, and the vast majority are part-time (see Figure 14).
Figure 14: Guidance counsellors in elementary schools, full- or part-time
“The K to grade 6 teachers need assistance from the Guidance Teacher for the All About Me portfolio. The Guidance Teacher only visits our school for one half day twice a month, so the focus is mostly on grades 7 & 8 and dealing with students who have behaviour issues.”
– Elementary school, Toronto Catholic DSB
The middle years: Making the transition to secondary school
The Creating Pathways policy mandates that all students in grades 7 to 12 have an Individual Pathways Plan (IPP), which is a continuation of the All About Me portfolio. The IPP is supposed to be the “primary planning tool for students as they move through the grades towards their initial post-secondary destination” (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2013, p. 18).
Even though IPPs are mandatory, only 74% of elementary schools with grades 7 and 8 report that all students have one, and in 15% of schools, no students have IPPs.
“Elementary guidance counsellors are new position this year – this has been great for getting the IPPs started.”
– Elementary school, Simcoe Muskoka CDSB
In grade 8, students must make choices about high school courses, and those choices have an impact on their future opportunities. Among many other tasks, guidance counsellors support students in making these important decisions.
“First year with increased guidance support from 0.1 to 0.5 FTE and that is making a big difference in terms of the support/planning we are able to provide.”
– Elementary school, Peel DSB
In 2017-2018, the Ministry of Education provided an additional $46 million to fund guidance counsellors for grades 7 and 8 at a ratio of 385 students to 1 guidance counsellor—an improvement from the previous funding, which was provided at a ratio of 1000 students for each guidance counsellor (Davis, 2018).
This year, 33% of elementary schools with grades 7 and 8 have a guidance counsellor, up from 20% last year.
There continues to be regional differences in access to guidance counsellors. Elementary schools in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) are over three times more likely to have a guidance counsellor than elementary schools in the North (see Figure 15).
Figure 15: Percentage of elementary schools with a guidance counsellor, full- or part-time, by region
Choosing courses: Choices now may limit choices later
Before they move on to high school, students must decide between applied and academic courses for grade 9—a decision that can have long-lasting consequences. However, students and their parents may not be getting enough information to make informed choices.
This year, 55% of schools report that their main source of information for parents and students is information nights. Other methods include one-on-one counselling (14%), handouts (10%), and email (5%).
“The high school principal and guidance counsellor visit. And we have two open houses (one for our 8th graders as well as one for our parents)”9.
– Elementary school, Conseil scolaire catholique MonAvenir
Schools do not usually include information about the outcomes of applied vs. academic courses to grade 8 students and parents. Yet research by EQAO (2018b) that follows students over time shows that students with comparable academic background (i.e. similar scores, even poor scores, on grade 6 tests) are more likely to do better in academic than applied courses. Other research has found that students in applied courses are much less likely to graduate from high school (Brown & Tam, 2017a; People for Education, 2015); and, even though applied courses are intended to lead to college, workplace, and apprenticeships, only 37% of students in an applied program of study are accepted into college (Brown & Tam, 2017b).
Students may also face barriers if they want to transfer from applied to academic courses. In 47% of high schools, principals report that students transfer from applied to academic courses “never” or “not very often.” Just over a quarter (27%) of schools require students to take a transfer course to change from applied to academic, but most of them (77%) do not offer the transfer course during school hours.
“We timetable applied/college and academic/university courses during the same time so that transferring from one to the other can be possible.”
– Secondary school, York Region DSB
Over the past five years, some schools and school boards have started working toward de-streaming grade 9. Last year, the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) adopted a three-year plan to move most students into academic programming in grade 9. The purpose of the initiative is to boost achievement and ensure “improved post-secondary choice at the work, college, apprenticeship, and university levels for all students” (TDSB, 2018, p. 15).
“All grade nine students take French and Geography at the academic course type. Based on the belief that all students can learn, progress, and achieve with time, support, and caring teacher, a culture of high expectations allows engaged students who attend regularly to have a better academic foundation to be successful at the subsequent grade level.”
– Secondary school, Lambton Kent DSB
Secondary school: Career and life planning and guidance support
Nearly every high school in the province (98%) has at least a part-time guidance counsellor. However, the average ratio per school of students to guidance counsellors is 375 to one, and in 10% of secondary schools, the ratio is as high as 687 to one.
Guidance counsellors in secondary schools play an important role in helping students to develop their Individual Pathways Plans (IPPs), and also sit on the Career/Life Planning Program Advisory Committees required by the Creating Pathways policy.
Even though IPPs are mandatory, only 57% of secondary schools report that all students have one, and in 9% of schools, no students have IPPs (see Figure 16).
Figure 16: Portfolio use in secondary schools
Only 34% of secondary schools have Career/Life Planning Program Advisory Committees, but where they exist, the committees have an impact:
- Schools with committees are far more likely to provide professional development on career/life planning: 67% of schools with committees provide professional development in this area vs. 30% where there is no committee.
- Schools with committees are more likely to report that all students are using the Individual Pathways Planning tool: in 64% of schools with committees, all students have IPPs vs. 52% of schools without.
- Schools without a committee are more than twice as likely to report that no students are using the IPP (11% vs. 4%).
As in elementary schools, most secondary schools report only staff members on the committees, with fewer than 27% reporting representation from community members, parents, or students.
Opportunities to explore career paths
“We have many local organizations and businesses who speak to students regarding careers in chosen fields as it is built into the curriculum.”
– Secondary school, Rainbow DSB
Hands-on learning that takes students outside the classroom helps them to develop communication, teamwork, and problem-solving skills. Over the past two years, these experiential learning opportunities have become more widespread in secondary schools.
Virtually every high school responding to our survey offers co-op courses, where students can learn in a workplace for credit. A quarter of schools also provide opportunities for students to participate in internships.
Almost all secondary schools use school trips (96%) and volunteer opportunities (92%) to expose students to experiences beyond the school walls. In addition, employers and post-secondary institutions are often invited into schools to expose students to potential education and career destinations at post-secondary fairs (92% of secondary schools) or career days (57% of schools).
At a time when the world of work is undergoing significant change, Ontario’s career and life planning policy provides a potential framework to support students’ capacity for the self-understanding that will prepare them for long-term success, no matter what their destination. However, to be truly effective, the policy must be supported by appropriate staff and professional development, and implemented coherently across the curriculum from kindergarten through to grade 12.
9 Translated from French. Original comment: “Visite de la direction et l’orienteur de notre école secondaire. Invitation à deux portes ouvertes (une pour nos élèves de la 8e ainsi qu’une pour nos parents).”
Technology in the classroom
This is an excerpt from our Connecting to Success: Technology in Ontario Schools report, released in April 2019.
97% of elementary schools and 100% of secondary schools report that teachers use technology to communicate with students.
33% of elementary and 66% of secondary schools encourage students to “bring your own device” (BYOD) every day.
85% of elementary schools in high-income neighbourhoods fundraise for technology, compared to 54% of elementary schools in low-income neighbourhoods.
The use of technology in today’s classrooms has the potential to enable, expand, and accelerate learning in ways previously unimaginable (Fullan & Langworthy, 2014). Over the last five years, data from People for Education and the Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) have provided insights into the use of technology in Ontario schools:
- In 2014, almost every school had access to computers. In 80% of elementary schools, principals reported that computers were integrated with student learning beginning in kindergarten (People for Education, 2014b).
- In 2018, 68% of grade 3 and 94% of grade 6 teachers reported asking their students to use the internet as part of their language instruction (Education Quality and Accountability Office, 2018a).
- In 2019, our data show that in 97% of elementary schools and 100% of secondary schools, at least some teachers communicate with students using technology (up from 88% of elementary schools in 2014).
- This year, 33% of elementary schools and 66% of secondary schools report that they encourage students to bring their own electronic devices to class every day. In those schools, most principals report that teachers create lessons with the “Bring your own device” (BYOD) policy in mind.
According to principals, lack of funding and insufficient access to professional development can make it challenging to successfully integrate technology in schools. But when these barriers are overcome, technology has the potential to enhance learning spaces.
“Communication between home and school has increased greatly. Parents enjoy seeing and hearing about the learning in general and what their child is doing.”
— Elementary school, Kawartha Pine Ridge DSB
Reaching beyond the school walls
In 2014, 88% of elementary schools reported that some teachers communicated online with parents/students. In 2019, 97% of elementary schools and 100% of secondary schools report that some of their teachers use technology to communicate with students.
Teachers use a variety of communication tools (see Figure 17). Through these tools, students can email teachers with questions, ask for one-on-one support, watch videos, or read articles related to class learning. They also allow teachers to assess student performance, inform parents about classroom activities, and post announcements.
Figure 17: Teachers’ use of digital communication tools
While some principals report that using technology to communicate fosters greater home-school connections, others say that it poses challenges—including parents and students texting each other during class, or expecting an immediate response to questions or concerns.
“It is adding a new stress to teachers. Teachers are too accessible. Parents are emailing or texting at all times. Teachers are feeling pressure to respond.”
— Elementary school, Toronto DSB
In March 2019, the Ontario government announced that, beginning in September 2020, all secondary students will be required to take four e-learning credits during their high school careers (Government of Ontario, 2019), and that it will centralize the delivery of e-learning courses (Naylor, 2019a).
“Online courses [at the secondary level] makes it possible to increase our offer of courses and thus allow students to take the courses of their choice, and according to their study itinerary.”
— Secondary school, Conseil des écoles publiques de l’Est de l’Ontario10
Until 2019, e-learning courses were primarily for high school students who could not attend physical classes due to personal or timetabling issues, or who wanted to take classes not offered at their home school. E-learning courses range from grade 9 English to grade 12 Earth and Space Science, use the same Ontario curriculum that school-based classes use, and are generally taught by Ontario certified teachers. These courses allow for greater flexibility—students in different locations can enrol in the same e-learning course and access the class during different periods of the day (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2017a).
“Students are keen to sign up for e-learning courses, but often struggle with the self-discipline and direction that these courses require.”
— Secondary school, Waterloo Region DSB
This year’s survey data show that 87% of high schools have at least some students enrolled in e-learning. However, only 5% of students per school, on average, are enrolled in these courses (up from 3% in 2014 and 2% in 2009, see Figure 18). Students in smaller schools are more likely to take e-learning courses, which may be because these schools offer fewer course choices, and e-learning provides more options.
Figure 18: Average percent of students per school enrolled in e-learning
Some principals report that students are keen to sign up for e-learning courses, but at times struggle with the self-discipline these courses require. While it is useful to expose students to online learning, mandatory e-learning courses may not be beneficial for all students. Research has shown that the lowest achieving students consistently perform worse in online courses than in face-to-face classes (Bettinger & Loeb, 2017).
The BYOD phenomenon
The trend of BYOD, or “bring your own device” (smartphones, tablets, laptops), is a way for schools to increase access to technology without the cost of purchasing devices for each student.
Student devices are used in a variety of ways: creating slide presentations, podcasts, interactive maps, or graphic designs; as well as video conferencing, note-taking, translating materials, and collaborating with peers and teachers. In 2019, one third of elementary schools (40% of elementary schools with grades 7 or 8), and two thirds of secondary schools encourage BYOD every day (see Figure 19). Overall, 62% of elementary and 74% of secondary schools encourage some form of BYOD.
“Students and families have been very supportive of using technology at school; students are generally very respectful of non-tech times and of teacher requests to not use technology; students and teachers rarely have problems with one another with regards to respectful and appropriate use of personal and/or school-provided technology.”
— Elementary school, Peel DSB
Figure 19: BYOD policies in schools
Sixty-four percent of elementary schools and 93% of secondary schools with BYOD report at least some of the teachers create lessons with BYOD in mind. Among elementary schools that allow BYOD, 27% of schools start BYOD in grade 4, while 19% start in kindergarten.
“A big challenge is that not all students have devices, so we try to purchase as many as we can to make up the difference; but we are in a low socio-economic area so it is hard to set high fundraising goals for technology.”
— Elementary school, Hamilton-Wentworth CDSB
Equity and access to technology
Not all students have access to computers or the internet at home. And, despite its increasing presence, access to technology varies considerably from school to school.
From 2014-2017, the Ministry invested $150 million in a Technology and Learning Fund to help schools acquire digital technology and learning tools (Council of Ontario Directors of Education, 2017). However, according to the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (2018), funding is not sufficient to provide devices for every classroom in the province, and a 2018 report from Ontario’s Auditor General found that students do not have equal access to technology such as tablets or laptops (Office of the Auditor General of Ontario, 2018).
In their survey responses, principals report that technology is often purchased through school fundraising. Sixty-eight percent of elementary and 22% of secondary schools specifically fundraise for technology. At the same time, they report challenges with relying on fundraising to purchase and maintain technology, and that it is more difficult to raise these funds in low-income neighbourhoods.
Using data from Statistics Canada, we looked at the top and bottom 25% of elementary schools in our sample, based on income. In 2019, 85% of elementary schools in high-income neighbourhoods fundraise for technology, compared to 54% of elementary schools in low-income neighbourhoods. Elementary schools in high-income neighbourhoods are also more likely to have BYOD policies than those in low-income neighbourhoods.
“Even the Board partnership for families to purchase refurbished laptops at a very reduced price was not affordable for our families. We need more devices in the school. Our families need access to free internet at home.”
—Elementary school, York Region DSB
Among schools that encourage BYOD, principals report that less than half of elementary students, and two-thirds of secondary students, participate in the initiative. In their comments, some principals note that BYOD policies are not successful in neighbourhoods where families don’t have technology access at home.
To reduce the inequitable effects of BYOD, many principals report that they purchase laptops, tablets, and other devices that students can use in class or at home. Some school boards are also trying to address the equity issue. In the Peel District School Board, schools still provide some in-school technology, and teachers plan lessons knowing that not all students will have a device (Peel District School Board, n.d.). The Upper Grand DSB purchased Chromebooks to be circulated via local public libraries, which helped bridge the digital divide for students without computers at home (Campbell & King, 2017).
To be or not to be: Cellphones in schools
Despite the prevalence of BYOD policies, cellphone use in schools is a contested issue. This year, we asked principals whether their school or board has a policy about cellphone use, or if it is up to teachers’ discretion. Rules for cellphone use in elementary schools are mainly determined by teachers (29% of the time) and schools (67% of the time), rather than board policy (5% of the time). In secondary schools, the decision to allow cellphones sits with individual teachers 63% of the time, schools 20% of the time, and boards 17% of the time (see Figure 20). This allows schools and teachers to make decisions that meet the needs of their community.
Figure 20: Cellphone policies in Ontario
While some principals report challenges in preventing students from using social media or online gaming sites, as well as increasing cyber-bullying issues, others report addressing these challenges through school policies, presentations about cyber bullying, etc. According to the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (2018), school policies help to establish parameters for appropriate digital use, and allow students to learn how to use cellphones critically, while practicing self-regulation in recognizing when technology is helpful vs. a distraction.
In March 2019, the Ontario government announced a ban on cellphones in classrooms during instructional time, with access permitted at the teacher’s discretion, for educational, health, or medical purposes (Government of Ontario, 2019).
Keeping up with technology: The role of professional development
“There are varying levels of educator comfort and proficiency with technology for learning. We are working with the Board to facilitate professional learning and to implement technology in the instructional program.”
— Elementary school, Hamilton-Wentworth CDSB
Teachers have varying levels of comfort with technology, and some teachers may need professional development in using technology as an effective teaching tool. In 2018, the Ministry of Education provided funding to each school board for a Technology Enabled Learning and Teaching Contact (TELT) to support staff in using online platforms and virtual environments (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2018c). However, larger school boards claim that it is challenging for one TELT to meet the needs of all schools in the board.
“…the Digital Lead Administrators program and Digital Lead Learner (teachers) roles in our Learning networks is doing a lot of great work to support staff. However, the degree of training and capacity building needed in schools around the effective use of technology is very high…”
— Elementary school, Toronto DSB
Digital tools alone are not enough to support student learning (Fullan & Langworthy, 2014). To exercise the full potential of technology in schools, educators need to use methods that foster learning of core competencies. In 2017, the Ministry announced a $10 million per year Innovation in Learning Fund to support teachers in developing global competencies among their students, as a way to build on the Technology and Learning Fund (Franz, 2017). However, in December 2018, this fund was discontinued (People for Education, 2018b).
Technology in schools can amplify the learning of core competencies like creativity, social emotional learning, and citizenship, and help students develop the digital fluency they need to succeed in today’s world. While Ontario has acknowledged the importance of technology in schools, currently there is not equitable access to the internet, digital tools, or the resources that build staff capacity for teaching with technology.
10 Translated from French. Original comment: “La dotation au secondaire fait en sorte qu’on offre des cours en ligne pour augmenter notre offre de cours et ainsi permettre aux élèves de suivre les cours de leur choix, et selon leur itinéraire d’étude.”
Fees and fundraising
99% of elementary and 89% of secondary schools report fundraising.
75% of elementary and 83% of secondary schools report receiving grants.
85% of secondary schools report having a student activity fee (with an average fee of $44).
26% of elementary schools report fundraising $20,000 or more, up from 7% in 2001, and 16% in 2015.
Ontario schools raised a combined total of over $583 million last year through school-generated funds.
Fundraising is a part of almost all schools in Ontario. From bake-sales to book fairs, fundraising is one way families and communities choose to support their schools (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2012), while providing “enhanced or optional programming” for students (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2011, p. 1).
Ontario schools also raise money through charging fees for a range of activities and materials. Ontario’s Fees for Learning Materials and Activities Guideline states, “Fees raised for school purposes are to complement, and not replace, public funding for education” (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2011, p. 3). Fees for items like agendas, optional art or music supplies, and field trips are permitted under this guideline, whereas fees for computers and textbooks are not. However, many schools rely on school generated funds (which include funds raised through both fundraising and fees) to supplement government funding in order to purchase essential items like technology, classroom supplies, and outdoor facilities for sports and play (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2012).
- 99% of elementary and 89% of secondary schools report fundraising.
- 26% of elementary schools report raising $20,000 or more, up from 7% in 2001, and 16% in 2015.
- 33% of secondary schools report raising $20,000 or more, up from 27% in 2015.
According to last year’s audited financial statements from all 72 publicly funded school boards in Ontario, over $583 million was contributed to schools from school generated funds. This number has stayed fairly constant for over a decade.
Extra-curricular activities: Supporting the whole learner
Research suggests school-based extracurricular activities (sports, music, art clubs, etc.) are linked to positive learning outcomes in achievement and well-being; and foster creativity, leadership, and a sense of community. For these reasons, they may also act as a protective factor against high-risk behaviours such as substance abuse, absenteeism, and delinquency (Feldman & Matjasko, 2005, 2012).
This year, 50% of elementary schools and 34% of secondary schools report fundraising for the arts, and 62% of elementary and 61% of secondary schools report fundraising for sports (see Figure 21).
“I need to subsidize transportation costs for athletic events. The Board-provided funds cover less than 40% of my actual needs.”
– Secondary school, Ottawa-Carleton DSB
Figure 21: What schools fundraise for
Grants to support schools
Schools apply for grants from businesses, philanthropic or non-profit organizations, and the Ontario government, often through Parents Reaching Out (PRO) grants (see Figure 22). These grants may require extensive applications, including action plans, proposed steering committees, and forecasted budgets.
The grant amounts range from $100 to more than $100,000. This year, 75% of elementary and 83% of secondary schools report receiving money through grants. The most common grant amount for both elementary and secondary schools is $1,000.
Since 2006, the Ministry has invested over $37 million in PRO grants to support parent engagement at the local, regional, and provincial level (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2019). In April 2019, the Ministry announced PRO grants would be cut in half, dropping from $2.5 million to $1.25 million beginning in 2019-2020 (Naylor, 2019b).
Figure 22: Where schools receive grant funding
“We need to have help to support the writing of grant applications to support the students/families who have limited access to resources outside of school.”
– Elementary school, Kawartha Pine Ridge DSB
Inequities in fundraising
In 2019, the top 10% of fundraising elementary schools raised 33 times the amount raised by the bottom 10%, with some schools reporting raising as much as $100,000. Among fundraising secondary schools, the top 5% of schools raised as much as the bottom 82% combined, with some schools reporting raising $220,000.
Using Statistics Canada’s data, we looked at the top and bottom 25% of elementary schools in our sample based on income (median household income) and education (percentage of adults in a neighbourhood without high school diplomas). On average, schools in high socio-economic areas (with higher parental levels of education and higher family incomes) fundraise twice as much as schools in low socio-economic areas. Schools in high-income areas are also more likely to fundraise for particular initiatives than those in low-income neighbourhoods (see Figure 23). For example, high-income schools are 1.7 times as likely to raise money for the arts and 1.6 times as likely to fundraise for technology. Interestingly, in fundraising for charities, the gap between high- and low-income areas is relatively small.
Figure 23: What elementary schools in high- and low-income communities fundraise for
“Our families are divided, the haves and the have nots. It is difficult to ask for support or plan trips when half of our families live in poverty.”
– Elementary school, Bluewater DSB
Principals tell us that fees and fundraising move the needle on what is possible: from instrumental music programs, Learning Commons enhancements, parent engagement initiatives, and breakfast and lunch programs, to supporting families in their local communities, schools rely on fundraising to augment their budgets. An unintended consequence of this practice is that it affirms the gap between the “have” and “have-not” schools, reproducing patterns of advantage and disadvantage (Winton, 2016).
“We are fortunate that our school council raises substantial money, however there is a huge equity issue around budgets being supplemented by parents in areas that can afford it compared to areas that cannot afford it.
–Elementary school, Durham DSB
“This is a huge issue. Rich schools can raise tons of money and small schools that are poorer cannot. This results in unequal access to what should be the same across the province.”
–Elementary school, Dufferin Peel CDSB
Inequities in fees
In 85% of secondary schools, students pay activity fees ranging from $10 to $300, with an average fee of $44. Seventy-eight percent of secondary schools ask students to pay athletic fees that can range from $1 to $1500, with an average fee of $116. Almost all schools waive fees for families who cannot afford them. However, schools report that only 3% of students, on average, ask to have fees waived, despite 14% of Ontarians living below the poverty line (Statistics Canada, 2017c). This may be due to students’ or families’ concern about a stigma attached to being unable to pay fees.
The Ministry of Education provides some funding to offset higher costs for small, rural, and/or remote schools (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2018c). But principals tell us that smaller communities face higher per-pupil costs, which fundraising is often unable to match.
“We can raise very little money in our very small rural community with high rural poverty rates and limited businesses.”
– Secondary school, Bluewater DSB
Experiences outside of the classroom help students develop competencies and skills that are foundational for success in today’s economy and complex world. When schools rely on fundraising to provide these opportunities, it can create inequities. If public education in Ontario is to provide every child with an equitable chance for success, all students must have access to the programs, resources, and activities that foster competencies for long-term success.
People for Education’s data
Every year, People for Education surveys Ontario’s publicly funded elementary and secondary schools. This report is based on data from the 1,254 schools that participated in the Annual Ontario School Survey this year. Unless cited from other sources, the statistics and quoted material in this report originate from People for Education’s Annual Ontario School Survey, the 22nd annual survey of elementary schools and 19th annual survey of secondary schools in Ontario. The surveys were sent to schools in the fall of 2018, and could be completed online via SurveyMonkey, in both English and French.
This year, we received 1,254 responses from elementary and secondary schools in 70 of Ontario’s 72 publicly funded school boards, representing 26% of the province’s publicly funded schools. Survey responses are also disaggregated to examine survey representation across provincial regions (see Figure 24). Regional representation in this year’s survey corresponds relatively well with the regional distribution of Ontario’s schools.
Figure 24: Survey representation by region
(by postal code)
|Percentage of schools in sample||Percentage of schools in Ontario|
|Central (L excluding GTA)||15%||17%|
Other provincial data
Data collected from the survey was also matched with school-level data provided by Statistics Canada, using the school’s Forward Sortation Area (i.e. the first three digits of the school’s postal code). The data from Statistics Canada included median household income (before tax) in 2015, and the percentage of adults aged 25 to 64 with no high school diploma or equivalency certificate, based on the 2016 census.
Data analysis and reporting
Qualitative data analysis was conducted using inductive analysis. Researchers read responses and coded emergent themes in each set of data (i.e. the responses to each of the survey’s open-ended questions).
The quantitative analyses in this report are based on descriptive statistics. The chief objective of the descriptive analyses is to present numerical information in an illuminating format that is accessible to a broad public readership. All data were analyzed using SPSS statistical software.
Calculations have been rounded to the nearest whole number and may not amount to 100% in displays of disaggregated categories. All survey responses and data are kept confidential and stored in conjunction with Tri-Council recommendations for the safeguarding of data.
Figure 25: Survey respondents by board
|Algonquin and Lakeshore CDSB||13|
|Avon Maitland DSB||14|
|Brant Haldimand Norfolk CDSB||3|
|CEC du Centre-Est||18|
|CEP de l’Est de l’Ontario||18|
|CSDC de l’Est ontarien||6|
|CSDC des Aurores boréales||9|
|CSDC des Grandes Rivières||6|
|CSDC du Nouvel-Ontario||16|
|CSD du Grand Nord de l’Ontario||8|
|CSD du Nord-Est de l’Ontario||7|
|DSB of Niagara||23|
|DSB Ontario North East||9|
|Grand Erie DSB||21|
|Greater Essex County DSB||3|
|Hastings & Prince Edward DSB||2|
|Huron Perth CDSB||2|
|Kawartha Pine Ridge DSB||36|
|Lambton Kent DSB||21|
|Near North DSB||7|
|Nipissing-Parry Sound CDSB||4|
|Peterborough Victoria Northumberland and Clarington CDSB||10|
|Rainy River DSB||3|
|Renfrew County CDSB||9|
|Renfrew County DSB||10|
|Simcoe County DSB||42|
|Simcoe Muskoka CDSB||29|
|St. Clair CDSB||7|
|Superior North CDSB||1|
|Thames Valley DSB||12|
|Thunder Bay CDSB||14|
|Trillium Lakelands DSB||19|
|Upper Canada DSB||31|
|Upper Grand DSB||48|
|Waterloo Region DSB||27|
|York Region DSB||48|
|Other School Authority||1|
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Download the 2019 elementary and secondary school surveys:
People for Education is supported by thousands of individual donors, and the work and dedication of hundreds of volunteers. We also receive support from the Bennett Family Foundation, the Counselling Foundation of Canada, the Hamilton Community Foundation, the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario, the Judy and Wilmot Matthews Foundation, Margaret McCain, the J.W. McConnell Foundation, the O’Neil Foundation, the Ontario Ministry of Education, and the R. Howard Webster Foundation.
Every year, principals in schools across Ontario take the time to complete our survey and share their stories with us. And every year, many volunteer researchers help us put the data we collect from schools into a context that helps us write our reports.
In particular, we thank:
Anita Brooks Kirkland
Alynah Amyn Hyder Ali
Garima Talwar Kapoor
and, as always, Dennis
Research Program Director:
Notice of copyright and intellectual property
The Annual Ontario School Survey was developed by People for Education and the Metro Parent Network, in consultation with parents and parent groups across Ontario. People for Education owns the copyright on all intellectual property that is part of this project.
Use of any questions contained in the survey, or any of the intellectual property developed to support administration of the survey, is strictly prohibited without the express written permission of People for Education.
Questions about the use of intellectual property should be addressed to the Research Program Director, People for Education, at 416-534-0100 or [email protected].
Data from the survey
Specific research data from the survey can be provided for a fee. Elementary school data have been collected since 1997, and secondary school data have been collected since 2000. For more information, please contact [email protected].
© People for Education, 2019
People for Education is an independent, non-partisan, charitable organization working to support and advance public education through research, policy, and public engagement.
People for Education (2019). What Makes a School? Annual Report on Ontario’s Publicly Funded Schools 2019. Toronto, ON: Author.
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