Choosing the right school for your children in the right neighbourhood

Finding school information can be complicated and overwhelming, but new technology is here to help make it faster and easier.

Using Technology to Find the Right School in a Neighbourhood You Love
Using Technology to Find the Right School in a Neighbourhood You Love

When it comes to buying a home, there is extra complexity for parents. Not only do they have to find the right home and the right neighbourhood, they also need to make sure their children can attend a nearby school where they will thrive. Technology can turn weeks of research into just hours, or even minutes. That’s why HoodQ has created this Homebuyer Hub.

We've heard from so many parents how painful the school search process can be. Sometimes parents would spend hours finding the right school, only to find out later the neighbourhood wasn’t the right fit for their family. Or they’d find a school and neighbourhood they loved, but then learned the average home price was way out of their price range. Some parents make the mistake of picking a house or neighbourhood and assume the good nearby school will be the one their child attends - only to learn otherwise in September.

Online lists of good schools can be so subjective, can recommend only schools in very expensive neighbourhoods, or focus only on scores and not on how a school will suit your child.

There are so many factors to consider that parents often get overwhelmed. It doesn't need to be that way.

Using HoodQ Insights™ and School Locator™ to find the sweet spot

No parent wants to compromise their child’s education just so they can have a shorter commute to work, a cheaper house, or some other item on their wishlist. With the HoodQ Insights™ Quiz, you’ll be able to find the sweet spots – the neighbourhoods that are matched with all of your specific criteria. This can include factors like you wanting to be a 30 minute car ride from your work address, your spouse wanting to be 30 minutes to their work using transit, and your family wanting to be near a tennis court and an off-leash dog park –while also having good schools your kids will love.

For every neighbourhood, our sophisticated algorithm automatically tells you which criteria of yours matches and doesn’t match. So be as picky as you like!

Once you've found a few neighbourhoods that seem interesting, head over to their Neighbourhood Profiles on the HoodQ Hub, or go directly to REALM to see listings in the neighbourhood.

Another option is to use the School Locator™ tool. While the Insights™ Quiz will recommend neighbourhoods across the GTA, the School Locator™ tool allows you to research at the city level. Simply choose school filters that matter to you - like school type, grade level, scores, and special programs - and, like Insights™, it will narrow down the list for you. When you click a neighbourhood, you'll see the option to go to its SchoolLife Neighbourhood Guide™ which includes an interactive map with all the schools, and their catchments, that serve the neighbourhood.

Do you have a shortlist of schools in mind already?

Perhaps you already know which school you want your kids to attend, or maybe you have a shortlist of schools that are contenders. How do you shop for a home with that as the starting point? Simply enter the school name in the search bar and you’ll arrive at the complete School Profile for that school.

In the School Profile, you'll see the neighbourhood the school is in, as well as other neighbourhoods that overlap its catchment area. In each SchoolLifeNeighbourhood Guide™, there's a map where you can click on a school and see the area of overlap between its catchment and the neighbourhood boundaries, so you can see what part of that neighbourhood you should be looking in.

Before you make an offer on a house, check the schools

When you get to the stage where you are looking at specific homes, be sure to check out the Address, Detailed, and School Reports for the home. These reports will tell you which schools are the designated catchment schools for that particular address, as well as provide more information about other schools nearby or other places nearby like parks and transit.

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A School Is More Than A Score
A School Is More Than A Score

When it comes to choosing a school, parents can become easily fixated on scores and numbers –data that largely come from standardized testing. But evaluating a school by just its scores can be limiting. First, quality is a very subjective thing. Second, looking at a school’s program diversity, teaching strengths, facilities and more will provide a better sense of strengths and weaknesses than annual scores. What’s more, comparing schools that specialize in different things is a little like comparing apples to oranges: one school may offer more robust academic instruction but lack arts programs; another may have French immersion but fewer opportunities for athletics. At the end of the day, choosing the right school for your children is more an art than a science. Here are five things to consider when making sure a school is right for your family.

1. Make the most of your tour

Be sure to spend a good few hours at your child’s prospective new school before making your decision. A visit is straightforward to set up—in fact, at the HoodQ Homebuyer Hub we provide all the relevant contact info on each school’s profile page. School tours aren’t just a chance to check out the building and grounds; they’re an opportunity to flesh out the fuller picture of the school. Part of your line of inquiry will be pure fact-finding: When does the school day begin and end? Are meal or snack programs provided? Is there a dress code? How is technology used in the classroom? What is the turnover rate for teachers? How much homework is assigned? Keeping a list of those questions on hand, while devoting equal time to the more emotional fact-finding. The success of any school, after all, depends on its heart and soul. Ask your tour guide about how progressive and nuanced the school is when dealing with issues like bullying, learning differences and nurturing the individuality of their students. What role does student mentorship play in the school—do older kids have meaningful opportunities to learn and play with younger ones? Ask the school to put you in touch with different members of the community—students, teachers and parents—all of whom can round out the answers to these questions.

2. Look beyond the numbers

There are a few limitations to scores and numbers. For example, class sizes aren’t always an indicator of quality—a class of 24 students isn’t automatically better than a class with 36. Other measurements can be misleading; schools that have higher rankings on things like EQAO scores may be smaller institutions where there’s little diversity of abilities in the population—or a lot of diversity in the programming. Numbers can help guide your decision, but they don’t tell the whole story. In fact, while standardized testing is a snapshot of how students and schools are doing compared to the city average, that picture is often incomplete—and sometimes unfairly biased. Each School Profile page adds a wealth of information about a school community, curated by our data experts.

3. Talk to the kids

Parents have one view of the ideal school experience, but kids have a keener sense of what goes on at their school and what they like about it—or don’t. If possible, try to talk to some of the students at your child’s prospective school (they may very well be guiding your tour). There are some things you can glean through observation, like the layout and organization of the classrooms, or if the facility and grounds are well maintained. But the perspective of the students is invaluable. After all, kids tell it like it is.

4. Talk to the parents

Parents of current students can provide a different kind of window into the school. Active parents make for better schools, because they support underfunded programs (raising money to replace an old playground, or bringing in enrichment for sports or the arts). And it’s not just about money: a dynamic parent network can help make your child’s school a true community.

5. Take a look around

School is where your kids will be spending most of their daytime hours, for six or eight years of their life. That means they will become intimately familiar with the surrounding area. Look around—is the school on a busy road, or tucked away on a side street? Is there easy access to public transit, should your child require it? Are there nearby parks, public libraries, or shops? Is there a local hangout where older kids like to congregate after school? Different families have different versions of the ideal school ’hood. Take a stroll and see how it feels to you and your kids.

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Learning About Schools with HoodQ School Data
Learning About Schools with HoodQ School Data

Several years ago, we began building our massive database of hyper-local neighbourhood reports, featuring intelligence on the schools, parks, transit stops, and other vital places closest to a specific home. We developed the most comprehensive and richly detailed neighbourhood data in Canada — painstakingly validated, expanded and packaged by expert Canadian curators who know what's important to homebuyers.

We quickly found that school information was the number one concern for homebuyers and real estate agents. After listening to frustrated parents tell us about the many hours they've spent searching for school information without feeling like they've found clear answers, we decided to create a one-stop source for schools. Building off our existing database, HoodQ curators hand-draw school catchments for preciseness, add detailed information about schools, and fix the many errors and inconsistencies found in other databases.

Our curation team is our biggest differentiator, and our hand-curated data is all about depth and relevance. No more searching across many sources and finding only inconsistent, low-quality data — we've done all the heavy lifting for you.

Our School Locator™ tool, School Neighbourhood Guides and address-specific reports direct families to private, public, alternative, and Catholic schools, and our School Profiles provide detailed information about each facility, such as grade level, programs, and sometimes additional information like extracurricular activities. That means you can find what you're looking for in seconds, rather than hours, and all in one place.

What about scores?

HoodQ School Scores are based on publicly available provincial standardized testing results, aggregated at the school level, weighted, and rescaled to generate a score out of 10. The absence of a score generally means that the school did not participate in testing in the most recent year, or the school's population was too small for meaningful results, but other reasons may also apply.

The provincial agencies responsible for administering this testing should be considered the official sources of information. This information may contain errors and omissions. You are not permitted to rely on the contents of this information and must take steps to independently verify its contents with the appropriate authorities (school boards, governments etc.).

For Ontario, HoodQ School Scores are based on results provided by the Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO), an Ontario provincial agency. For grade 3 and grade 6 students, the Percentage of Students Achieving the Provincial Standard in Reading, Writing and Mathematics was used. For high schools, the Percentage of Grade 9 Students Achieving the Provincial Standard in Academic and Applied Mathematics, and Percentage of Students that Passed the Grade 10 OSSLT on Their First Attempt are the measures we used.

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Special Programs and Specialty Schools – What Are Your Options?
Special Programs and Specialty Schools – What Are Your Options?

Our HoodQ school types are Public, Private, Catholic, and Special/Alternative. But within those school types, there are many different special programs that parents might want to consider, from subject-specific focus to advanced classes to extra support.

If you already know what special program you want your kids to attend, we have a couple different options to help you narrow down your school and neighbourhood search. The School Locator™ tool allows you to choose school filters and narrow down neighbourhoods on the map view of a certain city. HoodQ Insights™ lets you enter all of your different neighbourhood wishlist items (not just related to schools!) and recommends neighbourhoods for you that best fit your needs. There is no other tool in Canada like it!

If you think you might be interested in a special program but don't know all of the program options available, this article is for you. Below you'll find information on the different programs that HoodQ allows you to choose by in School Locator™ and Insights™.

Immersion programs

French Immersion is a popular choice for parents in Ontario. Children in French Immersion take French as a subject and also take at least 2 other classes where instruction is provided in French, for at least 50% French instruction at the elementary level. The goal of French Immersion is to help English-speaking children become fully or functionally bilingual in French.

Most commonly, kids start French Immersion in grade 1 or 2, but late entry French Immersion is also offered at some schools. It's generally more difficult the later you enter, but might be a great option for older children who know some French already. In some areas, children can be in French Immersion from grade 1 to grade 12, but in others, it's only offered in the elementary years. Choose all of the different grade levels in Insights™ or School Locator™ if you'd like to see neighbourhoods where kids can take French Immersion for their entire time in school.

We also offer the choice to filter schools by Spanish Immersion, but that is uncommon in Ontario.

Advanced programs

There are a few different program options for advanced students. In Insights™, you can choose Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate, and in School Locator™ you can choose either of those and/or Gifted/Talented.

Advanced Placement is an enriched program offered in some high schools where teens can take classes at the university level while still in high school. This allows academically advanced teenagers to get ahead, and earn university credits by passing AP exams. Different schools will offer different classes at this level, and different universities will have different policies about accepting them as transfer credits.

International Baccalaureate is an internationally-minded, academically challenging program available for children from age 3 to grade 12 graduation. The curriculum and examinations for this program are set by the International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO), and schools must apply to become an IB World School. The IB Primary Years program is for children aged 3-12 and offers an inquiry-based, transdisciplinary curriculum that encourages children to take responsibility for their own learning. The IB Middle Years program is for students aged 11-16, and encourages practical connections between studies and the real world. At the high school level for ages 16-19, the IB diploma program is academically rigorous and suitable for motivated students, often including independent studies.

Gifted/Talented Programs can vary, and are generally offered at regular public schools as an option for motivated and academically strong students. They may have grade-based or testing-based admission requirements.

Teaching methods

Montessori and Waldorf are two similar but different teaching methodologies offered in both private schools and sometimes in public schools. Both focus on the whole child and the child as an individual. Montessori is more popular currently, but both are growing.

Montessori is more child-led. The teacher is a guide, and children also act as guides for each other. Children choose what they want to learn and have a lot of independence generally, focusing on learning by experience and doing practical activities. Montessori schools generally group children into mixed-age cohorts.

Waldorf teaching is more traditional, with the teacher as an instructor. But it is also more focused on play and imagination, especially in the early years, and the curriculum is designed to be well-rounded and include the arts. Children generally are grouped by grade level and advance each year together, but each child learns at their own pace.

If you're considering Montessori schools, you can choose this program in Insights™ or School Locator™. Waldorf is an option in the School Locator™ tool.

Focus on specific topics

In Insights™ and School Locator™, you can prefer schools that specialize in Fine Arts, and in School Locator™ you can additionally prefer schools that focus on Vocational programs.

Fine Arts schools may include visual arts, performing arts, music, or all of the above, but have a strong curriculum focus on the arts. They may be public schools that have designated school catchments, or be open enrollment public or private.

Vocational schools are generally targeted at teenagers who intend to enter the workforce directly after school, or enter apprenticeship programs. Programs may range from technical and trades to cosmetology.

Each school's School Profile will provide more information about its program, but you'll want to contact the school directly for eligibility requirements (like portfolios or auditions).

Special Education and Alternative Schools

Special Education Schools generally serve children with special needs not met by regular schools. This is a whole-school program, rather than supportive options in regular schools. This can include schools for children with particular disabilities that otherwise provide a full regular program (like schools for the Deaf), or schools that provide a modified full program (like schools for kids with autism or learning disabilities), or schools that specifically help teens with disabilities prepare for independent or supported living while also completing a high school diploma or modified high school credential.

If you are a parent of a child with a disability considering a special education school, you may already know what school you want. You can search for it on the Hub and go directly to its profile, to find out more about it and the neighbourhood it's located in.

Alternative Schools vary widely, from open enrollment schools that provide extra support like small class sizes, to schools open only by referral for kids who are having difficulty in regular schools. Their School Profiles also provide more information, but you'll want to be sure to contact the school for details and assistance.

Single gender schools

In the School Locator™ tool and Insights™, you can prefer All-Female or All-Male schools. These are usually private schools in Ontario, and may additionally be Religious Schools.

Religious schools

In Ontario, Catholic schools are generally public, separate boards. We include these as a School Type to make it easy for parents who might go with either Public or Catholic to choose both options at once.

In the School Locator™ tool, you also have the option of choosing particular religions besides Catholic. In Ontario, most of the time, these will be private schools. Our options are Christian, Islamic, Jewish, and Other Religions.

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What are School Catchments and Why Do They Matter?
What are School Catchments and Why Do They Matter?

Most parents assume their child will attend their neighbourhood school. But sometimes even the school across the street has a designated catchment area that doesn't include your home, and so your children may not be allowed to attend it. School catchments can be complex, divide streets right in between next door neighbours, include only a single apartment building and not the ones around it, include neighbourhoods that aren't next to each other (or even close by), and more. It's definitely something you want to look into ahead of time if you're buying a home and have children!

What is a school catchment anyway?

A school catchment boundary, also known as an attendance area, a designated catchment, an assigned school boundary, and similar terms, is a specific mapped area designated by the school board for a specific school. Children living in homes within the area are eligible to attend that school, and children outside of it may not be allowed to attend it at all, or only with special permissions or for particular programs, and may be ineligible for bus transportation if they are allowed to attend it.

How do school catchments work?

Every school board handles school catchments a little differently. Some boards allow cross-catchment applications, and some don't. Some schools within a board may also be open to cross-catchment applications, whereas other schools might be at capacity with local children already and not allow it. Some schools have no catchment boundary at all, and are open to any family residing within the entire school board's regional boundary. This is particularly likely for schools that provide only a specialty program, like fine arts schools, special education schools, Montessori schools, or schools for high performance student athletes.

School catchments can also change, particularly in areas where the population of families is growing or shrinking. When a new school is opened by a board, this usually affects the catchments of many schools in the local area, both immediately and sometimes over a period of several years as grades are transitioned from the old schools into the new school.

If your home search is happening over the summer, it's especially important to make sure that the schools assigned for a home in the previous school year are the same ones that will be assigned in the coming school year, or you could be in for a surprise when you register your children.

This sounds complicated - how do I know which schools my kids can attend?

The HoodQ Homebuyer Hub is a great resource for this, whether you know what neighbourhood you want to live in or not.

Start out with the Neighbourhood Insights™ Quiz or the School Locator™ tool if you're not sure what neighbourhood you want to live in. You'll be able to choose the school criteria that matter to you (as well as other criteria like commute time and park facilities in Insights™) and see which neighbourhoods are your best matches.

On each neighbourhood's SchoolLife Neighbourhood Guide™, you will see a map of the neighbourhood with icons for different schools on it. Click any school and you'll see its catchment overlay on the map. This can help you see if, for example, only the northwest corner of the neighbourhood is in the school's boundary. Here's an example for a Toronto neighbourhood, but you can get to this page using the School Locator™ or Search.

School catchments and neighbourhoods don't cover exactly the same area though. To find out the designated catchment schools for a particular home, you'll want to search for HoodQ Reports. The one-page Address Report, the 8-10 page Detailed Report, and the one-page School Report are all free and provide information on the schools with catchment areas continuing the home, as well as any nearby schools that don't have catchment areas.

HoodQ's school data includes the catchment that is most representative for that particular school. In most cases, that's the English Regular Program catchment for all grades for public and Catholic schools. If a school offers only a French Immersion program, or is a French Only school, we include that catchment.

If your child will be attending a special program like French Immersion at a regular school, you will need to do a bit more research on the school board website to find out which schools serve that address for that program.

A quick disclaimer…

The HoodQ Homebuyer Hub exists to help you with your research and we try to keep our data as accurate and up to date as humanly possible, but we are not connected to school boards and have no say in eligibility decisions. School catchment boundaries are provided for general information only and school boards may change admission boundaries, policies, or requirements at any time. Admission to a particular school or program is not guaranteed even for homes within the catchment boundary. The school board is the final authority for everything related to eligibility, so before you purchase a home you will need to confirm your children's eligibility with the board(s) directly.

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Find the Perfect Kid-School Fit
Find the Perfect Kid-School Fit

Every child is different, and every school is different too. The best school for your kids may not be the one with the best score or the one that's most well-known or popular on blogs and social media. It’s the one that is the best fit for your specific child and ensures their interests are nurtured.

At HoodQ, we have developed the School Locator™ Tool to help parents narrow down their neighbourhood and school search and speed up the research process. You can also find the same options as part of our Neighbourhood Insights™ quiz experience, which also considers factors like commute time, parks and recreation, budget, and home characteristics.

Filter options in School Locator

The first option is the type of school you might want your kids to attend. Using the School Locator™ filters, you can choose multiple options, if you're considering both public and Catholic schools, or you're not sure if private education would be better suited for your child.

Next you'll choose the grade levels you're interested in. You can choose multiple ones if you have multiple children or if you want to see what your child's options would be in future years. The tool will check all grade and school type combinations you provide.

Your next option is limiting results by school score, if you want. Keep in mind that 5 is average, 9s and 10s are rare, and many excellent schools with happy kids are rated in the middle of the scale!

The HoodQ School Locator™ tool can also help you narrow down which neighbourhoods are served by schools with special programs like French Immersion, Montessori, International Baccalaureate, and more. Check out the options in More Filters for those. If your child is an avid artist or performer looking for an arts-focused school, or looking to get ahead with advanced placement courses, we have filters for those programs too. Our curators have hand-tagged schools with all of these programs wherever they could find this information. Of course, schools might not advertise all their program offerings, so it's always important to check with the school itself.

SchoolLife Neighbourhood Guides™ and School Profiles

Clicking a neighbourhood in the School Locator™ tool will show you a popup message explaining exactly how it matches (and doesn't match) your specifications. Clicking the option to learn more will bring you to that neighbourhood's SchoolLife Neighbourhood Guide™. This is a version of our main Neighbourhood Guides, specifically focused on schools.

A special feature of SchoolLife Neighbourhood Guides™ is the interactive map. Click any school on the map to see its catchment area (if it has been given one by the school board). School catchment boundaries and neighbourhood boundaries aren't the same, so you may need to focus your home search on only part of a neighbourhood if you want your kids to attend a particular school.

Each School Profile provides some information about the school, which our HoodQ curation team has gathered from the school websites. This may include the school's mission and anything in particular it's known for. Of course, the best way to get to know a school is to visit it for a tour, either in person or virtually. You can also find a link to the school site there so you can get in contact with a particular school.

Transitioning to a new school

Starting at a new school can be exciting but also tough on kids and their parents. The environment, the people, and the processes of daily life can all be pretty different at a new school.

Parents should make sure they know how the new school handles communication, check out the school's calendar so the family is ready for special events at the school, and get clear on the school's expectations for parental involvement.

Kids will benefit from visiting the school, trying out their daily route to school ahead of time, and hopefully meeting some neighbourhood children who also attend there.

Most of the school transition will need to happen in person and be between your family and the school, but we at HoodQ hope we can help you find the perfect fit at a school where your kids will feel at home.

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