A common-enough question here is Canada is “How can we homeschool during the high school years AND still get official credits towards the [provincial] diploma?” I will try to briefly summarize my answer in this blog and work on updating my longer high school article that I had on our old website years ago later. My answer is based on our experience of trying to find the answer to this (via phone calls, e-mails, and researching online) and our family’s experience since 2012 to present (2020).
Please read the note at the bottom of the post for an addition to the information in this post, as an update to it.
Please note: This post is for the families wanting to homeschool long-term (e.g. for all high school years) AND for families wanting to just homeschool for one semester or one year.
Homeschooling in Canada: Definitions Matter
For up-to-date official regulations and guidance on notification, legal matters, please refer to the Home School Legal Defense Association for Canada at https://hslda.ca/.
It is important that if you are planning to homeschool in Canada, that you follow the relevant information related to Canada. Each country has varied guidelines – and, as an example, not everything mentioned from an American perspective actually applies to homeschoolers in our country. I’ve heard and read some ideas about homeschooling high school which simply aren’t as common or reliable for Canada, but they likely are true for those homeschooling in the USA. (While we can certainly get ideas from Americans for how to manage these years, you have to carefully weigh what is applicable to Canadians and what is not.)
Example 1: What does “accredited” mean? Some schools or curriculum companies say that they are “accredited” or offer any homeschooler, including Canadians, some sort of “diploma”, all of which might be true. BUT in Canada, what association the school has its accreditation with and the type of diploma received also matters here. You need to check with what/whom is something accredited? It has been our clear understanding that official transcripts accepted here must be from government-inspected schools, even though there are other non-inspected schools which may offer fine educational content. Historically in general, Canada has not had as many options for “accredited homeschool-related diplomas” unless it has perhaps been through secular online schools.
Example 2: What level is expected of a specific subject for a specific post-secondary program in the student’s future goal(s)? If biology is to be taken at a senior high school level (grade 11-12), then taking a grade 10 biology (which is the grade that many American curriculum companies put biology into) will not likely suffice the requirement, EVEN IF it contains the same sort of topics/skills.
Do you need a high school diploma? What are the options?
This is a very important question to consider – does your student NEED a real diploma? (By “real”, I’m meaning one that is not just printed off on your computer printer and signed by mom or dad.)
First, what is an official diploma? Sarah Rainsberger nicely answers this in her blog and past seminars. Please read her answer (click the link below) as it is EXCELLENT! https://universityadmissions.ca/author/uac/page/3/
A similar question – what is meant by the word “credits”? It is my understanding that the PLAR “credits” are not the same official equivalent credits which count towards a secondary school diploma. Sure, this learning might be acknowledged in some way on a transcript but not in the same sense as being “one of 30 credits for a diploma”. Now that might be satisfactory to you/your student because, as will be mentioned below, a person can still graduate without a diploma but rather with the “top 6” (or more) course credits, etc. to get into most post-secondary programs without a diploma.
However, where a lack of getting a diploma-earned-by-official-credits might become an issue is for some college programs which strictly require a government-issued high school diploma to enter the program. It might also become an issue in certain degree pathways where there is a limited enrollment in a particular program and the institution says they prefer a high school diploma and will only consider “other” applicants if there is space left after receiving the “preferred” applicants. Look ahead to what the post-secondary institution requires and read those requirements carefully to make sure that your student will be able to apply with confidence.
Second, an official diploma might actually be helpful. Think about how many people never graduate from post-secondary but rather drop-out or get married or decide to work at a short-term job longer, etc.. A high school diploma could end up being the highest official diploma a student ever receives. And someday, proof of whatever the highest level of official education might be required to apply for work/career. Without any diploma (no GED, no official high school or post-secondary diploma/certificate/degree of some kind), the ability to apply for certain types or places of employment can be seriously limiting. (Sadly, some homeschool grads in Canada have experienced these kinds of limits in real life, often because their family didn’t understand that what might work for homeschoolers in another country, doesn’t always work in real life here in Canada. For a young dad to go back to school to get this sort of education or just continue along with fewer options for a workplace, it can be very discouraging and straining. For a young woman who finds she needs to obtain significant wages through employment but has no diploma, this also can be frustrating.)
Third, an official diploma might not be necessary. There are a number of different ways that people can enter post-secondary education in Canada and IF they complete that higher education, then that certificate/diploma/degree becomes the official thing a potential employer can look at. Of course, there are also the options of self-employment or joining a family business too; but those options often still include some sort of post-secondary training or certification these days in Canada. (In the USA, I’ve noticed they allow an apprenticeship pathway for some careers which, in Canada, apprenticeship is not an option for those same careers. Again, read about things carefully.)
A: Sharon Beattie of the S.A.L.T. Centre (Ontario) (S.A.L.T. stands for “Supporting Alternative Learning for Teens”) gives 5 possible options in a downloadable brochure for gaining entrance into university. (Click on the link for her name to view that brochure). Other speakers at high school seminars in Ontario have also said essentially the same options. I’ll summarize the ideas below and add a few more options:
1. Mature Student Status—wait until you’re 21 years old (+ prove ability to communicate in English)
2. Standardized testing (SAT, ACT) and/or AP subject exams at selected high schools. It doesn’t earn you high school credits but doing this can prove to a university that you have sufficient knowledge to take that level of coursework.
3. Open Universities (Athabasca, Thompson Rivers, sometimes Guelph) – take some coursework through one of these to prove your ability to handle academics at this level.
4. “Top 6”—take six grade 12 courses from an accredited [Canadian] school (online/virtual or local brick-and-mortar school building). Officially, the student can be physically “at home” doing virtual studies but is not “homeschooled” at this point but rather becomes a student of the school which is presenting and evaluating the coursework.
5. Portfolio—Keep a detailed documentation of everything studied and accomplished in high school and present this in an interview with post-secondary admissions staff.
6. This option is not mentioned by Sharon but is briefly by Sarah Rainsberger and that is to have a government-accredited diploma from another country (for example, a State of Maine diploma, U.S.A.).
7. Use NARHS (NARHS stands for “North Atlantic Regional High School”) credits to get “EQV” credits for grades 9-11 at home, with parent/student choosing the curriculum/resources used to study with and sending in “proof” via portfolio and filled-out-forms to the NARHS representative who re-evaluates what the student has earned to reward official credit. (This re-evaluation process by an official school that is government-accredited is key to getting the credit because it isn’t just parents saying that their kid has done well or good-enough.) I’ll link to the NARHS website at little later in this post.
After grade 11, the student then has a choice for grade 12 to either continue at home with NARHS to earn an accredited U.S. diploma (i.e. State of Maine) (such as in the above point #6) or to earn an official OSSD by taking six grade 12 courses from an accredited Ontario school. (I understand that this works very similar in other jurisdictions across Canada but our experience is with Ontario.)
Please note that ONLY courses taken through a government-accredited school will count as “EQV” credits when the Ontario school officials receive an official transcript from them directly. (Our local guidance counsellor emphasized that point to me and mentioned that she wished other homeschoolers she had dealt with in the past, had understood this better. She could consider homeschool work for “Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition” (PLAR) for whether or not a student might be able to do OK in a certain grade or course, but she couldn’t transfer credits from a “Mommy transcript” to be EQV. Yet how our family was handling this, she could do the transfer of credits to count towards the diploma.)
Our oldest daughter took some semesters at the local school and some semesters doing homeschool instead. ALL coursework could be accepted as official credit towards an OSSD because the credit was earned as a homeschooler registered with NARHS was government-accredited. That kind of credit could be transferred. Because she already had some in-class credits from her local school in addition to the credits earned throughout grades 9-11 as a homeschooler with NARHS, for grade 12 credits, the only grade 12 credit she was required to earn at an Ontario school was the regular grade 12 English (which she could have done in-class locally or online/virtual with an official high school in the province such as ILC or VLC). She chose the route of graduating with a state diploma instead. (Because she had then a non-Canadian government diploma, she applied to a Canadian post-secondary institution using that diploma plus her ACT/SAT scores. Extra note: She chose to write both the ACT and SAT on purpose but doing both were not required by her specific college/university.)
We have searched to try to find a Canadian organization who would have the same/similar re-evaluation services as NARHS to work on behalf of homeschoolers. To date, we have not found one that is accredited by our government to do this. Feel free to let me know if there is such and I’d be happy to add to this post.
8. An Enhanced Portfolio: Idea from a friend: First, look at the pre-requisite courses required for the post-secondary program that your teen is interested in. Take JUST those “critical” courses through an accredited school (e.g. virtual/online Ontario or music certificates from outside evaluator /official teacher). Do the rest of the coursework as a home school student. When applying for the college/university program, present a portfolio summary of home school high school work plus the marks from the required courses. It makes a stronger impression to the admission staff that the student is effectively prepared for their chosen program of study.
So, what is NARHS?
North Atlantic Regional High School (not an affiliate link) is a fully-accredited organization in the United States. A student in the high school years can register yearly (for a reasonable fee), gets academic advice periodically, and submits coursework to turn it into official credit. Parents (or similar) initially give the mark for the work done. A qualified representative from NARHS re-evaluates the work. Work is submitted via snail mail or scanned in, photographed, etc. and submitted electronically. Courses can be textbook-based with tests/quizzes or self-designed with projects, etc.. For self-designed courses, each credit needs to prove a minimum of 80 hours of learning and these offer the most flexibility. Resources used need to be at a high school level unless there is a demonstrated special need involved.
From a Canadian perspective, using the services of NARHS means that our teens can choose CANADIAN-based curriculum. It also means that there is a lot of flexibility to study topics of interest and to do so in a learning style which an individual enjoys. To our knowledge, this is the most flexible way to earn an official high school diploma in Canada.
Of special importance to note:
Because of how NARHS works, it is very EASY to take just one year (or even one semester) to try homeschooling while still earning official credits towards a provincial diploma. This means that if you register with NARHS for the year, you can either homeschool one semester or both. (Example: Our oldest did a fall term in-class locally and then a winter term homeschooled, doing this for a couple of years.) The credits earned through homeschooling this way then were transferred to the regular high school when we went back to meet with her guidance counsellor and her school received the official transcript directly at the end of the school year (or beginning of the next school year). NARHS has lots of helpful lists for the names of curriculum you can choose or you can share your ideas with an advisor about something that you’ve seen which is appealing to work with.
So, it really comes down to what your student wants or needs in order to pursue further education after the high school years as to how you might approach the idea of homeschooling during these teen years. Some students will not need a diploma (e.g. one of our teens); some will want or need one instead (e.g. two of our teens). Look at the end goal(s) and work backwards, discuss options together, and make decisions which will benefit your teen in his/her studies and adult life.
Homeschooling for high school CAN be a lot of fun and offer lots of value, even in Canada!
ON CLEARANCE: We do have a few NARHS “how-to” idea books about homeschooling during the high school years for sale since we used to distribute for these. The books are not up-to-date so some information about forms or requirements might have changed over the years. But the examples and helpful ideas are still very relevant and very helpful to anyone wanting some great ideas for how to be flexible and get an excellent high school education at home, studying things of value and interest to the individual student. Full Disclosure: Other than reselling these old titles, while quantities last, we are not affiliated as a business with NARHS. We do not earn any further compensation from mentioning them in our blog. However, we do personally recommend this organization to Canadian homeschoolers looking for options for the high school years. CLICK HERE TO SEE THOSE TWO HIGH SCHOOL PLANNING BOOKS IN OUR SHOP!
P.S. I wrote the above blog not to cause further confusion nor to discourage people. Yes, there remains an inconsistency across the regions as to which Canadian schools end up awarding EQV credit for coursework which wasn’t transferred directly from an accredited school and schools which are like the one I described above. This seems to be due to how much or exactly what is understood by the individual staff involved (or perhaps, there has been movement towards opening up more options regarding these issues – that would be very much appreciated).
However, my purpose in writing the above blog was to provide what our family understands to be true, to uphold the school professionals trying their best to be honest workers with what they have understood in their training and limitations, and not to raise potential false hope. Just because “some homeschoolers” have received credit doesn’t mean that we, as homeschool parents, should expect that this is a “right” for equality in our community, if it isn’t really something that has that kind of foundation officially. I want to offer ideas that work well and are peaceable, not confusing/inconsistent.
UPDATE: I have heard of another Canadian option: A Christian-based virtual online school in Ontario, Canada began in the fall of 2020. They are an inspected school and offer official credit towards the OSSD. It is gradually adding course offerings and has reached up to grade 11 (but not grade 12 yet). You can see their website here (not an affiliate link): Christian Virtual School