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 HoodQMatch™ Quiz or the HoodQ 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 HoodQMatch™) 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.