Pathways to Success

Planning for high school should begin in grade 6.

Pathways to Success

Image(s) licensed by Ingram Publishing


Ah, high school! It begins in grade nine and ends in grade twelve. It’s four years of progressive learning, culminating in entrance into post-secondary education or the workforce.

Sounds simple enough. But the reality is leaving grade eight for the excitement of secondary school is not as simple as choosing grade nine courses just before the deadline. There are vital periods of transition between grades six and ten that determine your child’s long-term success at the secondary level and beyond. These are known as the “Transition Years.”

Use this time well

“But”, you gasp, “I’ve never heard of this planning stage in my child’s education. Why is it so important?”

In Ontario all secondary schools deliver identical curriculum according to the programs prepared by the Ministry of Education. The expectations, the course curricula and the evaluation systems are the same, along with course codes per subject.

The variety of courses and different streams offered are enough to overwhelm most parents – not just students. By grade six, parents and children need to start examining secondary school programs and learn the difference in course levels offered in grade nine.

There will be terms you’ve never heard of: academic, applied, locally developed, open, special education support, alternative education, advanced placement, international baccalaureate, English Language Learners programs, community service, and more. Parents and students must understand 
everything to make the correct choices.

For example, an applied-level course sets up a pathway that is not going to be appropriate for attending university. An academic-level course prepares the student for the university pathway in grades eleven and twelve.

Grade six students operating at 65% are not going to be prepared for a grade nine academic course. By identifying this challenge early, teachers, parents and students have two years to improve grades and study habits. By eighth grade, the student can make a better decision as to the appropriate level. Those two years also give the parent time to understand the system their child is about to enter.

Keep end goal in mind

Choice extends beyond grade nine courses. At the end of grade ten, the academic and applied courses change to university, college, university/college combo, workplace and open courses. Parents and students should be familiar with the entire secondary school curriculum, with the end goal in mind. If your child plans to go to university, check prerequisites. Be realistic.

Most students and parents automatically think university is the best choice. However, college or the workplace may be more suitable based on past performance and the child’s interests. The high school course load can be tough. Impractical goals may set your child up for failure if you don’t fully understand the system and the options.


Tips for Success

› Every student will follow a different pathway that needs to be carefully planned. Here are some tips for parents and students.
› Understand subjects, course curricula and the evaluation system.
› Talk to your children’s teachers. They are experts.
› Visit the Ministry of Education website;
› Use the internet: research universities, colleges, apprenticeship programs, etc.
› Discuss choices with experts: teachers, guidance counsellors, professionals.
› Visit for an education planner.
› Do not use guesswork – gather the correct data.
› Ignore rumours and gossip.
› Ensure your child does not choose courses based on what “their friends are doing”. Course selection is a personal decision.
› Remember that a cooperative education program in grade 11 will give students first-hand workplace experience.

Author: Tony Lewis

Tony Lewis is a retired secondary school principal and is now the Educational Consultant for Qualified Tutors Inc. 905-763-7134

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