Mandated leaving time in high school a sign of province’s financial direction

Ontario’s changes to high school leaving protocols tell us much about how carefully Ontario will be spending its money and how much priorities have changed.

In 2002, Ontario officially changed to a four-year high school program and dropped the fifth (Ontario Academic Credit or OAC) year.

That final fifth year of high school that had been in place in Ontario for almost all of the twentieth century had originally been conceived of as a university preparatory year.

Until 1987, students finished Grade 12 and graduated with something called a Junior Matriculation. Grade 13, the fifth year, was optional but necessary for those planning to attend university as well as some community college courses. Graduation from that fifth year with a minimum of eight credits gave students their Senior Matriculation.

After 1987, the formal title of “Grade 13” was dropped in favour of OAC but that year was still necessary to complete for university entrance, although many students managed to juggle required classes over their high school careers and finish in four and a half years or, occasionally, in four years with their OAC credits.

Then came the abrupt phasing out of the OAC year and high school in Ontario became, officially, four years in duration.

For the initial couple of years, most students finished high school in four years. Then, returning for a fifth year, earning more credits and perhaps a higher average, became popular and was even given a nickname: the “victory lap.”

Until now, in other words, no authority has absolutely told students that they could not re-register for a fifth year at high school, if only because they didn’t know where to go next or to improve marks.

But as of last week’s provincial budget, students are expected to complete high school (30 credits means a completed program) in four years and to only return if one has failed to complete programs within that time frame. There is a limit on coming back, too: a maximum of four courses can be taken. Failing completion of these means no graduation.

This is being imposed to make Ontario’s high school experience into a truly four-year program and to cut back the cost of education by eliminating the fifth year once and for all.

In the history of education in Ontario, this is the first time a mandated leaving time has been imposed with students being told, basically, that they’re not welcome to return (other than as alumni/ae).

While cuts are being imposed at many levels over which Ontario and Ottawa hold sway, it is still something of a shock to see the imposition of an absolute 30 credits-and-out rule for high school students.

Given Ontario’s history as a jurisdiction favouring five years in high school (including the recent ‘Victory Lap’ experience) this single change speaks volumes about how desperate Ontario is to implement cost-cutting measures.