SHSM Policy and Implementation Guide - School Considerations
Specialist High Skills Majors

SHSM Policy and Implementation Guide – Section B3: School Considerations

For an SHSM to be successful, members of the school team, with the support of the school board, need to carefully consider the educational, material, and human resources available for the implementation of the program. They also need to take into account the local context in which the program will be offered. The needs and activities identified in the school's action plan should guide the team's decisions in the areas outlined in the following section.

B3.1 Developing SHSM Pathways
B3.2 Timetabling the SHSM
B3.3 Adapting the SHSM for Students with Special Education Needs
B3.4 Promoting and Developing the SHSM
B3.5 Keeping Track of Students' Completion of the SHSM Requirements
B3.6 Sustaining and Growing the SHSM

B3.1 Developing SHSM Pathways

When establishing the program pathways for your SHSM, consider the following:

  • all stakeholders, including students, parents, staff, and community and postsecondary partners
  • offering choices in the bundle of credits
  • alternative forms of course delivery (e.g., e-learning, independent study)
  • partnering with coterminous and neighbouring boards
  • incorporating dual credits, approved interdisciplinary courses (IDCs), and approved LDCs, where appropriate
  • flexible and innovative timetabling (e.g., continuous intake cooperative education, after-hours cooperative education, block scheduling, early starts, extended days)

A pathways chart is not a student timetable but rather suggested courses that, taken as a bundle, will provide sector-specific knowledge and skills. When developing a personalized timetable based on the pathways chart, students may choose to select courses from multiple pathways (e.g., a student may be planning to enter the workplace upon graduation but takes Grade 11 English, College [ENG3C] rather than Grade 11 English, Workplace [ENG3E]).


When students look at a pathways chart, they should be able to easily identify the courses they can take to earn the SHSM in each pathway, through the appropriate course codes in the bundle of credits:

  • Apprenticeship training: "E" and "C" course codes
  • College: "C" and "M" course codes
  • University: "U" and "M" course codes
  • Workplace: "E" course codes
  • "O" (Open) course codes, which may also be included where appropriate

Students can customize their timetables by taking courses in any pathway as they work towards completion of the SHSM.

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Schools must offer an SHSM in all four pathways: apprenticeship training, colleges, university, and workplace.

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The terminology used in describing SHSMs includes pathway, timetable, and bundle of credits. The distinctions between these terms are important and are summarized in the table below.

A Comparison of Pathways, Timetables, and SHSM Credit Bundles
Pathway Timetable Credits in the SHSM Bundle
The roadmap, showing courses offered in a school, that leads to postsecondary opportunities. The groupings of courses from Grade 9 to 12 constitute a pathway that leads to a specific postsecondary destination. The student's selection of courses for a semester or a year that lead to the achievement of credits for graduation. The student can select courses and personalize their timetable on the basis of their needs, abilities, and interests. The eight to 10 courses specific to a sector that must be approved by the ministry. These are derived from sector, postsecondary, and teacher input.

In developing pathways for the SHSM, you should be mindful of the following:

  • Students need a clear map that shows how the credits in the bundle provide them with the pathway to a future career.
  • When selecting courses for the SHSM pathways, special attention must be paid to the strategic bundling of credits to ensure that the combination of major credits in the pathway delivers the technical knowledge and skills expected in an SHSM.
  • Each student must see the kinds of courses that they need in a pathways chart, whether the student's plan is to go into apprenticeship training, to a college or university, or directly to the workplace.
  • Courses must be offered in all four pathways.

A generic pathways chart is provided for reference for each sector in Section A.3: Sectors.

B3.2 Timetabling the SHSM

The following factors need to be considered when timetabling an SHSM:

  • staff expertise in the sector
  • program priorities and a rollout plan for SHSM programs in the board/schools
  • effect on other programs in the board/school
  • availability of specialized equipment and facilities
  • timetable options:
    • block-scheduling students as cohorts
    • scheduling single, double, or triple sections for eligible major credits
    • timetabling to accommodate cooperative education courses and prerequisites for the required bundle of credits
    • grouping students in the other required credits (e.g., English) to facilitate the delivery of CLAs in schools choosing to deliver them
    • in smaller schools, offering credits in alternating years or scheduling two or three courses in the same timetable slot
  • delivery format of courses in the SHSM (e.g., regular day-school courses, dual credits, e-learning, and Independent Learning Centre [ILC] courses)
  • busing schedules
  • costs of travel, taking into account the distance to the SHSM site
  • use of innovative strategies (e.g. summer cooperative education programs)
  • coordination with a college partner offering dual credits as part of the SHSM
  • coordination with sector partners to develop and deliver sector-partnered experiences (SPEs) with a focus on ICE (innovation, creativity, and entrepreneurship), coding, or mathematical literacy
  • coordination of timetabling and placement opportunities for cooperative education and Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program (OYAP) students

B3.3 Adapting the SHSM for Students with Special Education Needs

In designing an SHSM for a student with special education needs, the school SHSM team should consider the student's abilities, interests, personal goals, strengths, and needs, including the need for educational, environmental, or assessment accommodations and/or modifications to curriculum expectations, as outlined in the student's Individual Education Plan (IEP).

For some students, accommodations are sufficient to allow them to participate in courses and learning activities through experiences in the community and to demonstrate their learning without modifying expectations. Accommodations may include strategies or resources such as alternative assessment methods, access to assistive technologies, or the opportunity to take more frequent breaks.

Experiential learning activities in the community should also be considered when developing the transition plan in the IEP.

When planning for a student or students with special education needs to participate in the SHSM learning experiences that occur outside the classroom (i.e., experiential learning and career exploration, reach ahead experiences, sector-partnered experiences, and cooperative education placements), educators must take the following into account:

  • The accommodations described in the student's IEP must be made available in every learning experience, whether it is job shadowing, job twinning, work experience, cooperative education, or an apprenticeship training program.
  • The employer and the supervisor should be made aware of the student's special education needs. When sharing this information, all relevant privacy legislation must be adhered to, and the consent of the student and/or parent (as applicable) must be obtained. If possible, all of this should occur well before the placement begins.
  • The student, with the support of the teacher, should review the accommodations outlined in their IEP and should identify self-advocacy strategies regarding their accommodations that they can apply as needed in the context of the community experience.
  • The teacher, the student, and the placement supervisor should discuss the expectations that are to be achieved.
  • The student should be well prepared for what they will be expected to do at the placement (e.g., specific work tasks and use of specialized tools and procedures may be modelled at the school before the work placement).
  • Strategies employed in both teaching and placement supervision should be tailored to meet the particular strengths and needs of the student (e.g., the school may provide employers with strategies relevant to training and making accommodations for students with special education needs).
  • Schools should ensure that additional supports and resources are provided, where necessary.
  • The assistance of additional professional or paraprofessional staff and the use of specialized equipment or facilities may be required (e.g., an educational assistant may accompany the student to the site to facilitate the transition to the workplace, and/or the student may use assistive technology).


More detailed information about planning programs for students with special education needs can be found on the ministry website:

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B3.4 Promoting and Developing the SHSM

Specific activities related to the promotion and marketing of the SHSM should be identified in discussions with the school SHSM team and advisory committee and incorporated into the SHSM action plan. Boards might want to consider a centralized approach to SHSM promotion through flyers, posters, radio and television commercials, and promotional items.

How can you build awareness among students, parents, and key stakeholders?

Students, parents, and key stakeholders, including postsecondary institutions, sector partners, and sector-related businesses in the community, need to be informed and involved through a variety of strategies, which could include:

  • featuring articles on the SHSM(s) in the school newsletter
  • discussing the SHSM(s) at school council meetings
  • communicating with local business and industry and the local chamber of commerce
  • posting information on board or school websites
  • referring stakeholders to Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program (OYAP) websites
  • using social media to inform students of opportunities offered in SHSM programs
  • making SHSM promotional materials available in guidance/student services offices
  • ensuring that SHSM programs are discussed with students during option selection
  • holding career information events for parents, students, teachers, and the community
  • leveraging existing open house events to promote the SHSM
  • coordinating awareness and promotional activities with School College Work Initiatives (SCWIs) (e.g. dual credit links in the SHSM) at the local level
  • sharing with students, parents, and staff economic and employment trend data, available on the Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) website (formerly Human Resources and Skills Development Canada [HRSDC]) or from local Economic Development offices
  • engaging key stakeholders to request their participation in sector-partnered experiences (SPEs) with a focus on ICE (innovation, creativity, and entrepreneurship), coding, and mathematical literacy.

How can you promote awareness among Grade 7 and 8 students?

Schools need to provide parents or guardians as well as students with information about SHSM programs. In Grades 7 and 8, students and parents start considering programs offered at the secondary level, secondary school options, and requirements for achieving an Ontario Secondary School Diploma. Students' decisions depend largely on parental awareness of SHSM programs. Promotional materials and activities that raise awareness of SHSM programs and highlight the links between programs and particular interests provide helpful information about the benefits of SHSM programs.

The following are examples of strategies that boards and schools can use to build Grade 7 and 8 students' awareness of the SHSM program:

  • Organize field trips, skills competitions, and activities in the community that are specific to the SHSM.
  • Host presentations or talks on careers by guest speakers and mentors from the sector.
  • Hold a sector-sponsored summer program before students enter secondary school.
  • Organize experiences at a secondary school in the program related to this sector.
  • Invite current or graduate SHSM students to share their experiences.
  • Profile SHSMs at Grade 8 parent nights.
  • Arrange for students to attend skills competitions in local high schools.

How can you encourage exploration of SHSMs among Grade 9 and 10 students?

Many of the strategies listed above would also help Grade 9 and 10 students begin to explore pathways planning and SHSM programs. Schools should be infusing career education into all courses, and those schools with SHSMs should ensure that the SHSM sector(s) are explored in the Grade 10 Career Studies course. These are some additional strategies:

  • The school board SHSM lead could be invited to present information about the SHSM programs offered at the board's schools.
  • SHSM programs could be profiled on the school and/or board websites.
  • Displays could be set up for parent nights at the school to inform parents about the benefits of SHSM programs.
  • Activities such as Take Our Kids to Work DayŠ also provide opportunities for students to explore careers in sectors that interest them.
  • SHSM presentations could be delivered as students begin to select their courses for the following year.

Many courses for Grade 9 and 10 students provide excellent exploration opportunities. See Section A3: Sectors for details on the exploration courses recommended for each SHSM program.

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The descriptions of individual SHSM programs in Section A3: Sectors include recommended courses that support Grade 9 and 10 students' exploration of the SHSM.

B3.5 Keeping Track of Students' Completion of the SHSM Requirements

The following SHSM components must be tracked:

  • certifications by date and number of hours
  • reach-ahead and experiential learning and career exploration activities
  • completion of sector-partnered experiences (SPEs)
  • CLA delivery dates (for schools choosing to offer CLAs)

Step 1.

A process is established to identify students who will participate in the SHSM. These students are then identified in the school's student management system. Student names are then recorded in the board's student management system, which is designed to record the completion of the five required components of the SHSM, including completion dates.

Step 2.

Staff access the credit counselling summary sheets or any other board-generated reports of SHSM students and meet with them. The required components that these students have already achieved are identified.

Step 3.

Data is entered into the student management system based on the information recorded on the board's student management system.

Step 4.

Throughout each semester, the student's SHSM information is updated to reflect new credit accumulations and the completion of SHSM components. In the case of a student who has attended the school only to obtain the major credits, the home school is updated by receiving a copy of the student's SHSM information.

Step 5.

The student's SHSM information recorded on the board's student management system should be reviewed a minimum of twice a semester to check on students' progress in completing certifications, experiential learning and career exploration activities, and sector-partnered experiences (SPEs).

B3.6 Sustaining and Growing the SHSM

Professional learning communities (PLCs) are an effective means to facilitate the involvement of all staff in the planning, implementation, and measurement of an SHSM initiative, and help create a sense of collective responsibility. As the program evolves, staff members build individual knowledge and skills, and simultaneously develop a sense of working as a team towards a common goal – to provide a quality SHSM for students. The work of a PLC can result in a program that is both sensitive to local and individual needs and designed to meet the ministry's requirements.

A PLC can include administrators, Student Success leaders, teachers of SHSM major credits, guidance staff, cooperative education staff, teachers of subjects related to the SHSM, and OnSIS (Ontario School Information System) leads.

Networking groups also provide sharing opportunities among educators across the province who face similar challenges. These groups may be at the regional level or the provincial level, and may include teachers in other schools and boards offering the same SHSM sector. The Ontario SHSM e-Community website, listed in the box below, is an example of an electronic community.


An SHSM team is essential for the success and sustainability of an SHSM program. Local, regional, and provincial networks can be strengthened by:

  • sharing effective practices and analysis of data and program success by SHSM teams
  • working collaboratively with neighbouring boards
  • accessing the SHSM e-Community at, to obtain and submit resources, and join threaded discussions with other SHSM teams
  • visiting other SHSM sites, industry sites, and postsecondary programs related to the SHSM
  • attending sector-related conferences and events
  • inviting community, industry, and/or business partners to school events
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