Nepean High School Corner: Should we bring back Grade 13?

Nepean High School. Photo by Nina Beck

By Georgia Jones 

During the Ontario provincial election in May, the Liberals proposed in their Ontario Liberal Plan for Education the idea of reinstating an optional Grade 13 as a way for students to further enrich their learning before graduation. 

After consistently experiencing interrupted learning throughout the pandemic, some students have been opting to complete a “victory lap”—voluntarily staying in high school beyond the typical four years. Victory laps are often used to boost grades, complete missing prerequisites and fulfill scholarship requirements. However, as of 2013, a 34-credit threshold was introduced by the Liberal party limiting funding for most students who exceeded 34 credits, according to a 2016 Scarborough Mirror article by Tara Hatherly.

A Grade 12 student at Nepean High School (NHS), Yana Golic, added her thoughts on the situation. 

“A Grade 13 would be helpful, but only if schools are willing to help students with real-life skills,” she said. “I think that’s a major problem with high schools now: that students are graduating with no idea how to cope with real-life problems.”

Golic is not alone in expressing these concerns: other students added that they feel unprepared to deal with life after secondary school. Charlotte Dobson, another NHS student, says that she hopes a Grade 13 would provide learning more geared towards necessary life skills, such as budgeting and finances. 

Steven Del Duca, the former Liberal party leader, said the optional Grade 13 would solve these issues by providing a structured alternative to the victory lap, and allowing students access to courses such as civics, personal finances and mental health and well-being. The goal of the reintroduction would be to help students catch up on educational opportunities they missed due to the pandemic, and introduce them to new skills. But altering an entire school system is a large decision, so the drawbacks must also be considered. 

Grade 13 was phased out of Ontario secondary schools in 2003, a removal that led to the introduction of applied vs. academic streams of study. Recently, the phasing out of this system of streaming has also begun in Ontario schools, after drawing criticism that it results in decreased opportunities for students. Removing this new system could signal a return to old methods, perhaps making this the perfect time to reintroduce the concept of Grade 13.

From quadmester systems, to cohorts and remote learning, high school education in Ontario has been in constant flux since schools first closed in spring 2020. Students across all grades have been struggling to maintain some of the skills needed in order to succeed in secondary school, such as group work, labs and in-person exams. 

For many Grade 12 students at NHS, this will be their first year in a traditional high school setting before graduation, and many feel ill-equipped to deal with this sudden transition. However, the addition of Grade 13 would offer students the time and opportunity to further hone their skills and explore additional courses, making it a viable solution.

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