The Nova Scotia School System

Richard Payne
Published on January 13, 2024

The Nova Scotia School System

Updated February 2023

One of the questions we get asked a lot is how are the schools in Nova Scotia.

If you are looking for an intense structure to your child’s education, Nova Scotia’s public school system is probably going to disappoint. Coming from the UK, it took us a little while to adjust to the more laid back way of learning. No weekly spelling tests or multiplication tests, minimal homework, no school uniform, less testing in general. It was quite the shock for us parents but our 6 and 5 year old loved it and adapted right away to this new style of learning.

Nova Scotia schools tend to be more focused on holistic education rather than purely grades. I personally feel that children are a lot less stressed out here, compared to my experience with the traditional UK school system with its rigorous grading and testing structure.

In this fascinating report which ranks 76 countries according to how well their students perform, Canadian education positioned well above UK and US education in terms of student performance and receiving a good education.

Another interesting facet about the education here is that high school students don’t specialize as much as in the UK. University bound students tend to take 6 or 7 different subjects in their final year of high school compared to 3 or 4 A-levels.

So how does the Nova Scotia School System work? And what are the highest ranked schools in the province.

Public Schools

In Nova Scotia, most residents attend public school, starting at age 5 with grade Primary in elementary school.

Children who will be at least four years old by December 31 of the school year now have the option to access free, universal pre-primary education and some families may also be eligible for busing to and from school. More information on the Pre-primary program can be found here.

*Please note: Not all schools offer this program just yet. It continues to roll out throughout the province. The Pre-primary Program is available for families with four-year-olds who live in the following school communities:

Check here to see if your Nova Scotia neighbourhood school does and if you are eligible.

Pre-primary is for one year only before children attend grade Primary, followed by grades 1 to 6. After elementary school, youth attend grades 7 to 9 at a junior high school, and high school for grades 10 through 12.

Public schools in Nova Scotia operate for about 5 hours a day and times vary at different schools and at different levels.

Language instruction can either be in French or English, but most schools in Nova Scotia are primarily English. Early and Late French immersion is also available but not in all schools. 

Here’s a list of schools with French Immersion programs.

In Nova Scotia, French is taught to all students from grades 4 to 9 and is an optional credit in high school.

To see a list of the top public schools in Nova Scotia as ranked by Atlantic Institute for Market Studies (AIMS) click here.

French Language Education

French Language education is provided by Conseil scolaire acadien provincial (CSAP) francophone schools.

Any child who qualifies to attend school in Nova Scotia can register for the French Immersion program in the HRCE, but children must meet the requirements listed above to attend a CSAP school

To attend CSAP there are specific qualifications. Children must have at least one parent who is a Canadian citizen PLUS at least one of the following requirements:

  1. The parent’s first language is French and is still understood.
  2. The parent received their education in a French first-language program.
  3. A sibling has received their education in a French first language program.

It’s important to note that even if parents do not meet these criteria, but a grandparent does, they can also be admitted to the school. 

Another option is if a family has immigrated here from a country where the primary language is French OR not one of the two official languages of Canada, they may also qualify. These families should reach out directly to the school board to see if they meet the requirements.

Private Schools

In Nova Scotia, private schools are not publicly funded and fees vary from school to school. There are more than 20 private and independent schools in Nova Scotia, most of which are in Halifax.

Here’s a list of some of the most popular independent schools in Nova Scotia. It’s not a comprehensive list but it should give you a good starting point for you to continue your own research.

Home Schooling

Parents may legally provide an education program for their children in the home, rather than a public school. They must follow Nova Scotia government approved courses and programs.

Visit the Nova Scotia Department of Education website for more information on home schooling.

Before and After School Programs

The Nova Scotia Before and After Program is available to families of children ages 4 to 12, who are enrolled in the Nova Scotia Pre-primary Program or the public education system.

This fee-based program is delivered by approved child care, municipal recreation or recognized non-profit recreation providers throughout the province.  It is delivered on-site at the school, so children and students have a seamless day.


Most of the Nova Scotia school boards opt for registration during the month of February. This is certainly the case for the Halifax Regional Centre for Education, for both their upcoming school year English and French Immersion programs.

In CSAP parents can register any time during the school year.

You can register your child at the local school they will be attending or at the regional school board office. It is important to provide as much documentation as possible about your child’s education outside of Nova Scotia. This will help place them in a level of learning that is right for them.

A useful resource is the Newcomers’ Guide to Nova Scotia Schools.

The Directory of Public Schools can help you find a school in your area.

Information and links to each Regional School Board are on the Department of Education website.

We have been impressed with the public school system that our children have been and continue to be part of. I know it’s a very individual experience and many people may feel differently.

I hope this gives you some insight into the school system here in Nova Scotia.

Please send me an email if I can answer any of your questions in more detail.

Life is good in Nova Scotia 

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