Education in Quebec

The Quebec education system is governed by the Ministry of Education, Recreation and Sports (Ministère de l'Éducation, du Loisir et du Sport). It is administered at the local level by publicly elected French and English school boards. Teachers are represented by province-wide unions that negotiate province-wide working conditions with local boards and the provincial government.

Preschool, primary and secondary education
Optional preschool, also known as pre-kindergarten (prématernelle), is available in select inner city areas for children that have attained 4 years of age on September 30 of the school year. Kindergarten (maternelle) is available province wide for children that have attained 5 years of age on September 30 of the school year.
Mandatory elementary education (école primaire) starts with grade 1, through to grade 6. Secondary school (école secondaire) has five grades, called secondary I-V (Sec I-V for short) or simply grades 7-11. Students are 12 to 16 years old (age of September 30), unless they repeat a grade. Upon completion of grade 11, students receive their high school diploma from the provincial government.

Language in schools
Quebec has publicly funded French and English schools. In primary and secondary schools, according to the Charter of the French Language, all students must attend a French language school, except:
- students whose parents have done most of their elementary or secondary studies in English in Canada and the parents are Canadian citizens
- students who have already done all or most of their elementary or secondary studies in English in Canada, or who have a sibling who has received most of their education in English in Canada, as long as the parents are Canadian citizens

May attend publicly funded English schools. These rules do not apply to temporary residents of Quebec or First Nation children. If a parent had the right to attend English schools, but did not, they do not lose the right for their children.

Since 2006, English is taught as a second language in French primary schools from grade 1 onward, and a few schools also offer English immersion programs for advanced students. English schools offer a large range of programs that include French as a second language, French immersion, and fully bilingual programs that teach both English and French as first languages.

Religion in schools
Formerly, school boards were divided between Roman Catholic and Protestant (called "confessional schools"). Attempts were made to set up a Jewish school board before the Second World War, but it failed partly due to divisions within the Jewish community. This confessional system was established through the British North America Act, 1867 (today the Constitution Act, 1867), which granted power over education to the provinces. Article 93 of the act made it unconstitutional for Quebec to change this system. Consequently, a constitutional amendment was required to operate what some see as the separation of the State and the Church in Quebec.

The Quebec Education Act of 1988 provided a change to linguistic school boards. In 1997, a unanimous vote by the National Assembly of Quebec allowed for Quebec to request that the Government of Canada exempt the province from Article 93 of the Constitution Act. This request was passed by the federal parliament, resulting in Royal Assent being granted to the Constitutional Amendment, 1997, (Quebec).

In the 1996-1997 school year, Quebec had 156 school districts including 135 Catholic districts, 18 Protestant school districts, and three First Nations districts. The school districts operated 2,670 public schools, including 1,895 primary schools, 576 general or professional secondary schools, and 199 combined primary and secondary schools.

When public schools were deconfessionalized in 2000, Catholic and Protestant religious education classes along with nonreligious moral education classes continued to be part of the curriculum. Article 5 of the Quebec Public Education Act had been modified in 1997 so as to allow minority religious groups to be allowed religious education classes of their faith where their number were large enough, but this was removed in 2000. Then, in order to prevent court challenges by these same minority religious groups wanting specialist religious education in schools, the government invoked the notwithstanding clause, which expires after a maximum of 5 years. In 2005 the government of Premier Jean Charest decided not to renew the clause, abrogate Article 5 of the Public Education Act, modify Article 41 of the Quebec Charter of Rights and then eliminate the choice in moral and religious instruction that existed previously and, finally, impose a controversial new Ethics and religious culture curriculum to all schools, even the private ones. The ERC course has been taught starting in September 2008. Several court challenges have been launched against its compulsory nature.

Private schools
Quebec has the highest proportion of children going to private schools in North America. The phenomenon is not restricted to the well-to-do. Many middle class, lower middle class and even working class families scrimp and save to send their children to private schools. The government of Quebec gives a Pro rata subsidy for each child to any private school which meets its standards and follows its prescriptions, reducing tuition costs to approximately 30% of non-subsidized private schools.

Most of the private schools are secondary institutions, though there are a few primary schools, most of them serving precise religious or cultural groups such as Armenian Orthodox Christians or certain Jewish faiths.

17% of the high school population of Quebec currently attends a private high school. The figure is even higher in urban centres such as Montreal, where 30% of high school students are in the private sector. A study released in August 2004 by the Quebec Ministry of Education revealed that, over the preceding five years, the private sector had grown by 12% while the public sector had shrunk 5.6%, with slightly steeper rate in the last year.
Private secondary schools usually select their students by having them go through their own scholastic exams and by making a study of the entire primary school record.

The Quebec public sector teachers' unions oppose any form of subsidy to private schools. They claim (1) that private schools select only the brightest and most capable students and reject children with learning difficulties; and argue (2) that by doing this they leave a burden to the public sector. Private schools usually have teachers who are not unionized, or who belong to associations not affiliated with the main body of Quebec public sector teachers' unions. The debate over the subsidies has been going on for several decades.