The Assembly of First Nations and the Government of Canada announce updates to school design standards for schools on-reserve

Published: Jun 02, 2023Press Release

Updated education infrastructure standards to support equity between First Nations and non-Indigenous communities

June 2, 2023 — Ottawa, Unceded Algonquin Territory, Ontario — Indigenous Services Canada

Students living in First Nations communities deserve quality learning environments that are safe and healthy places to learn and grow, and support better educational outcomes.

Working in partnership, the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) and Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) continue to take significant steps toward improving education infrastructure for First Nations communities across Canada. Today, we share details of co-developed updates to the School Space Accommodation Standards (SSAS) policy.

The SSAS outlines the service standards for the construction and major renovation of First Nations schools that are funded by ISC through its Capital Facilities and Maintenance Program.

The SSAS takes into consideration planning that is specific to First Nation communities, and helps to guide the development of First Nation learning environments that will support individual communities’ culture, language, and ways of knowing.

The updated School Space Accommodation Standards policy shared today:

  • ensures that First Nations can alleviate enrollment pressures and rising populations by developing design horizons up to 12 years after the opening of the school.
    o   This means less overcrowding, more culturally specific spaces, and more spaces for First Nations students to succeed in.
  • supports lifelong learning as First Nations adults are included in new school designs that supports education upgrading and language learning.
  • reflects First Nations students’ needs in language, culture, traditional ways of knowing, and enhances support of education programming.
  • improves space design for the most vulnerable students who require inclusive/special education services.
    o   This approach is the first of its kind in Canada, and will ensure that inclusive/special education spaces are never compromised and instead based on the needs of the students, professionals, and community.
  • These updates will also improve accuracy of enrolment projections, extend school design horizon, better accommodate inclusive or special needs students, provide more flexibility in policy guidance, better accommodate communities’ needs – especially those in remote areas – and make the SSAS more user-friendly.The updated standards apply to new schools and major renovation projects that are entering the feasibility study phase and that are funded by ISC. The existing funding allocation procedures (e.g., the First Nations Infrastructure Investment Plan) and available level of funding will continue to apply for major capital school infrastructure projects and renovations.“Recognition of First Nations self-determination and jurisdiction over education is critical to improving outcomes for First Nations students. The improvements to the School Space Accommodation Standards were led by First Nations for First Nations as mandated by AFN Chiefs-in-Assembly Resolution 34/2019, First Nations Education Infrastructure Review, which advocated for policy or program changes to First Nations education infrastructure. These are the best school standards in Canada, and First Nations continue to be a global leader in Indigenous-led school standards. With these changes, we will alleviate enrollment pressures in First Nations schools and improve class sizes and learning environments to ensure First Nations students have spaces that reflect their Treaty and Inherent Rights to education. The Chiefs Committee on Education is pleased to welcome the co-developed School Space Accommodation Standards and will seek to build on this relationship to enhance education capital processes and ensure that First Nations school builds are captured in transformative education agreements or Regional Education Agreements.”

    Regional Chief Bobby Cameron, Education Portfolio Holder
    Assembly of First Nations

    “We must close the gap in First Nations education and ensure First Nations children can enjoy the same high-quality learning opportunities and learning spaces. The updated School Space Accommodation Standards policy supports Indigenous-led efforts. This policy is the result of listening to First Nations voices and being guided by their knowledge. Today’s announcement will ensure we can give children the best start in life, including providing learning opportunities that reflect communities’ unique culture and traditions.”

    The Honourable Patty Hajdu
    Minister of Indigenous Services

    Quick facts

  • Updating and modernizing infrastructure policy is aligned with Canada’s commitment to honour the 7th and 8th Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
  • The SSAS policy is aligned with provincial planning standards and best practices.
  • The SSAS policy review began in 2019, and used a two-phased approach to address issues with space standards of school facilities identified by First Nations and regional offices.
  • Changes resulting from the first phase of the review took effect in April 2021, and increased on-reserve school sizes and included new allocations for spaces to support full-day kindergarten, language and culture rooms, knowledge keeper offices, counselling rooms, and outdoor learning spaces.
  • First Nations are encouraged to work with regional ISC officials to review infrastructure needs and update their community-level First Nations Infrastructure Investment Plan and submit it to their regional ISC office.
  • The Government of Canada has committed $2.34 billion up to 2024–2025 in First Nations school facilities, which includes $860.5 million from Budget 2021. Since late 2015 and as of December 31, 2022, Indigenous Services Canada has invested more than $1.7 billion of these funds to support 273 school-related infrastructure projects.
  • While work remains in progress, in total these investments will result in the construction of 67 new schools (38 currently complete) and renovations or upgrades to 137 existing schools (95 currently complete), benefiting 35,000 students.
  • Since late 2015 and as of December 31, 2022, Indigenous Services Canada has invested over $5.9 billion for elementary and secondary education to help First Nations children living on reserve receive high-quality schooling.Related products

Backgrounder: The Assembly of First Nations and the Government of Canada announce updates to school design standards for schools on-reserve

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For more information, media may contact:

AFN Communications
Ayman Hammamieh
Communications Officer
Assembly of First Nations
343-573-1771 (mobile)
[email protected]

Zeus Eden
Press Secretary
Office of the Minister of Indigenous Services
[email protected]

Media Relations
Indigenous Services Canada
[email protected]

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