Education Partnerships Program: Structural Readiness Component: National Program Guidelines 2023 to 2024

Table of contents


The Government of Canada is committed to achieving reconciliation with Indigenous peoples through a renewed, nation-to-nation and government-to-government relationship based on recognition of rights, respect, co-operation and partnership as the foundation for transformative change. The implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples requires transformative change in the government's relationship with Indigenous peoples.

These efforts must be guided by Canada's obligation to respect and uphold First Nations' inherent, Aboriginal and Treaty rights, including those rights to education referenced in specific treaties and self-government agreements. The nation-to-nation relationship between the Government of Canada and First Nations is rooted in historic treaties, the numbered treaties, self-government agreements, section 35 of the Constitution Act of 1982, guided by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and informed by the Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's Calls to Action.

1. Program introduction

Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) supports the advancement of First Nations student achievement in First Nations, independent, provincial and territorial schools through the Education Partnerships Program. This program has 3 proposal-based components:

Each component has its own set of national program guidelines outlining the eligibility criteria, proposal or work plan information requirements and set out the delivery requirements for funding recipients that enter into a funding agreement with ISC for the delivery of the Education Partnerships Program.

The following guidelines are effective as of April 1, 2023 and replace the Education Partnerships Program: Structural Readiness Component: National Program Guidelines 2022 to 2023.

These guidelines have been developed in partnership with the Assembly of First Nations, its Chiefs Committee on Education and the National Indian Education Council.

2. Objective

The objective of the Structural Readiness component is to support targeted activities that build the capacity of First Nations organizations to:

3. Expected results

The expected results of this component are:

4. Eligible recipients

Applicants who may be eligible to receive funding for this program are:

First Nation organizations mandated by First Nations or First Nations designated organization must meet the following criteria:

As participation in a First Nation organization's proposal can change year over year with First Nations joining or withdrawing support, where a formal arrangement is not in place, a demonstration of support from each First Nation is required every year with the proposal.

Eligibility to apply for Structural Readiness funding does not depend on having a partnership memorandum of understanding.

Individual First Nations or schools may be party to more than one proposal in each component provided that there is no duplication of activities.

Entities such as bands or First Nations organizations that are delivering education services under a self-government arrangement are not eligible to apply to the Structural Readiness component.

5. Eligible activities and criteria

The following identifies all of the required proposal information.

Applicants must clearly identify planned activities that will be implemented. Funding for potential activities will not be supported.

5.1 Education organization planning tool

The Education Organization Planning Tool is available to Structural Readiness applicants as an option and is not mandatory. It provides a step-by-step guide for organizations to assess their regional First Nations organizations' capacity to deliver education support and services for band-operated schools.

Funding is available to help regional First Nations organizations reflect on current priorities, map assets, assess needs and build an organizational capacity development plan.

5.2 Eligible activities

As a purpose of the Structural Readiness component is to build capacity, repeat applicants must demonstrate how the current proposal and eligible activities will enhance or be a continuance of previous years activities.

5.2.1 Strengthening capacity for governance and leadership of the organization

  • Providing professional development as it relates to the organization and not the classroom, such as training for Board of Directors, Human Resources, Financial Management
  • Developing and formalizing processes, policies and protocols
  • Developing strategies to implement First Nations control of First Nations education, both in the classroom and through partnerships with other First Nations, First Nations organizations or the provincial or territorial school system
  • Developing or formalizing board governance policies, processes and mechanisms

5.2.2 Strengthening capacity for external relations and partnership establishment

  • Establishing external partnerships and strategies
  • Developing or maintaining a network with governments, non-governmental organizations and corporations
  • Establishing or maintaining partnership agreements or other formal partnership models that lead to developing:
    • new approaches to tuition agreements, education services agreements or delivery agreements
    • better links between elementary and secondary education on-reserve, early childhood programs and planning for transitions to post-secondary education or labour market training programs
    • better supports for on-reserve First Nations students attending off-reserve schools, including boarded students
  • Developing policies, processes and procedures for communicating with the public, professional organizations, private and non-governmental sectors and other governments
  • Developing mechanisms for participating in policy and program development

5.2.3 Strengthening capacity for parental and community involvement

  • Supporting engagement with First Nations on First Nations education transformation
  • Formalizing parental and community engagement policies and processes that:
    • allow First Nations schools and communities to participate in decision making and ensure options for parental choice
    • keep the community informed of decisions and changes to programs and policies

5.2.4 Strengthening capacity for planning, performance and risk management

  • Developing or updating new policies, systems and procedures
  • Providing professional development for strategic planning, policy development and risk management
  • Developing or updating a long-term strategic plan that includes addressing needs identified in the self-assessment process
  • Establishing policies and procedures to administer, monitor and report on the performance and delivery of school supports and services

5.2.5 Strengthening capacity for financial management of the organization

  • Developing or updating a financial management plan
  • Providing professional development for financial management. Developing policies, procedures and processes for financial management such as for:
    • collecting revenues
    • developing and distributing audited financial statements
    • tendering and awarding contracts
  • Developing formal processes and procedures for allocating funding to First Nations

5.2.6 Strengthening capacity for human resource management of the organization

  • Establishing or formalizing human resources policies and processes for:
    • recruiting
    • screening, including volunteers
    • hiring
    • retaining
    • terminating
    • providing professional development for, and compensating personnel required to deliver education services
  • Training or providing professional development for staff

5.2.7 Strengthening capacity for information management and technology of the organization

  • Developing or improving business practices related to information management and IT such as:
    • data security
    • access to information and privacy policies
    • document management
    • computer hardware and software
  • Developing and updating information management and technology management plan and policies
  • Providing professional development related to information management and technology
  • Purchasing software, annual licensing fees and IT equipment related to implementing an organizational IT strategy and repairing and maintaining school data systems

5.3 Criteria

Proposals must address 1 or more of the following:

  • activities that strengthen the governance and organizational capacity of First Nations organizations for the delivery of education-related services to First Nations schools
  • activities that support the establishment of a First Nation school or system model that First Nations communities will partially or fully delegate responsibility to for all aspects of elementary and secondary education
  • activities that support the establishment of partnership agreements or other formal partnership models that identify the shared priorities, commitments and roles and responsibilities. The partnership must consist of a combination of the applicant and 1 or more of the following potential partners:
    • First Nations including First Nations education organizations
    • tribal councils
    • school board-like entities
    • provincial or territorial ministry of education
    • provincial or territorial school boards
    • ISC

For partnership establishment activities, applicants must:

  • clearly identify the partners and each partner's financial or in-kind contribution, for example, the applicant's costs can be funded in whole or in part through the program
  • identify the shared priorities to be reflected in a joint action-plan or any other mechanism to facilitate the partnership

Once a partnership agreement has been formalized and signed, the applicant can apply to the Partnerships component of the program.

Service agreements for the purchase of services, regardless of the duration of the service agreement, do not constitute a partnership for the purposes of this program.

If you are submitting a proposal for Structural Readiness activities, you can include copies of your capacity development plan or the ISC education organization planning tool as an attachment.

6. Expenditures

6.1 Eligible expenditures

Subject to section 6.2, eligible expenditures include:

  • short-term, non-permanent funding for salaries and benefits
  • travel expenditures including accommodation costs, private vehicle, mileage allowances and daily meal allowances. ISC will provide funding in accordance with the rates set out in the National Joint Council's Travel Directive, excluding incidental allowances
  • meeting costs including facility rentals, meeting rooms, audio-visual equipment rentals and hospitality
  • communications with First Nations and education partners such as ministries of education, teachers' associations and school board associations
  • professional services, consulting fees or Elder engagement, daily rates and duration of contract must be clearly stated
  • honoraria for Elders, Knowledge Keepers, cultural and ceremonial drummers and dancers
  • IT start-up services. Proposals must be accompanied by an IT strategy and implementation plan and a price quotation. IT start-up services may include:
    • the purchase of hardware or software for the organization only and not for in-classroom or individual student needs
    • IT fees, for example, maintenance or licenses that is critical for the organization's operations and funding is not available elsewhere
  • legal advice, excluding litigation costs
  • professional development and training for the First Nations organization's staff, not including in-classroom training
  • purchase of learning and instructional materials to be utilised by the First Nations organization
  • costs associated with establishing a First Nations school board that will assume responsibility over on-reserve elementary and secondary education, including operating schools and managing tuition agreements

6.2 Ineligible expenditures

Ineligible expenditures include, but may not be limited to:

  • provincial and territorial tuition
  • activities related to the negotiation and implementation of self-government agreements
  • infrastructure, including planning, construction, operation or maintenance of federal and First Nations school facilities
  • any activity expenditure that would result in duplicate funding such as receiving funding from more than 1 source for the same cost of an activity, including fees and services covered through tuition agreements
  • acquisition or maintenance of equipment or supplies in provincial or territorial schools
  • provision of professional development, travel expenditures including accommodation costs, private vehicle mileage allowances and daily meal allowances within the rates set out in the National Joint Council's Travel Directive for provincial or territorial staff
  • activities associated with health and health-related issues, first-aid training, mental health coordinators, psychologists, suicide prevention, mental wellness retreats
  • activities that are covered by Canadian Heritage's Indigenous language legislation, such as:
    • language and curriculum materials
    • curriculum personnel
    • cultural and heritage activity workers and elders
    • land-based education programming equipment
  • door prizes, swag bags, gifts

To find out more about the program funded under Canadian Heritage's Indigenous language legislation, visit:

To find out more about ISC's funding programs, visit:

6.3 Maximum administration costs

Eligible administration costs include only the actual costs associated directly with administering the proposal and may be calculated based on the total funding requested for activities to a maximum of 15% of the requested funding.

The data collection instrument (DCI) will automatically calculate the amount.

Eligible administration costs include, but are not limited to:

  • clerical support
  • office space and utilities
  • administrative overhead, such as:
    • stationary and office materials
    • cell phones and office telephones
    • individual IT equipment
  • the collection, maintenance and reporting of data and information in accordance with program and financial reporting requirements
  • costs associated with ensuring that personal information is appropriately managed and safeguarded during its collection, retention, use, disclosure and disposal

When a funding recipient further transfers funds to a third party that were received under this program, the 15% allowed for administration costs must be divided between the parties, as agreed to by the parties.

7. Proposal process and assessment criteria

Where the program is administered by the First Nations' designated organization, the organization may implement a regionally specific proposal review process that may differ from the national approach.

Applicants must complete and submit a proposal. The amount of funding allocated to recipients is based on the number, eligibility and merit of proposals submitted in the respective region, relative to the regional allocation. Therefore, eligible proposals might not be fully funded.

7.1 Submission of proposals

All proposals submitted to ISC must use the official 2023 to 2024 DCI which specifies the mandatory information required. Refer to the DCI's "View Instructions" button for assistance.

ISC headquarters will email the DCI form directly to previous applicants to complete along with instructions on how to submit the completed proposal.

ISC regional offices will email the DCI form to all remaining First Nations in their respective region with the same instructions for proposal submission.

Applicants who are applying to the Structural Readiness component can only submit a single-year proposal.Where regional-specific guidelines have been established, they will specify where proposals are to be submitted. Please contact the First Nation designated organization in your region for any questions. If Structural Readiness proposals are not being submitted to a First Nation regional organization, they are to be submitted to ISC.

7.2 Assessment criteria

Proposals will be assessed based on applicant eligibility, as well as the eligible activities and merit criteria as outlined in Section 5.

The mandatory DCI fields must be completed with clear information. Missing information, or the lack of clarity, may impact the proposal assessment process and the level of recommended funding.

The proposal merit criteria, as further outlined in the DCI, is as follows:

  • capacity: applicants are required to describe their related experience, expertise or capacity to undertake the proposed activities
  • commitment and support: applicants must confirm that the proposal has the support of communities, schools and partners
  • implementation plan: the extent to which the proposed activities support the objective of the requested funding
  • activity costs: the amount of requested funding should clearly align with the nature of the activity

7.3 Program administration options

Three program administration options are available to each region. Where applicable, the First Nations' designated organization will inform ISC of the region's preferred option. Where ISC is not notified of a mandated designated organization, Option 3 will be the default.

7.3.1 Option 1

As outlined in section 4, First Nations can designate an organization to adjudicate and administer the program for their region.

The First Nations' designated organization will submit a Structural Readiness proposal to ISC for the full regional allocation. The proposal must meet the requirements as outlined in sub-sections 7.1 and 7.2.

First Nations will determine and establish the respective regional approaches that are responsive to First Nations priorities.

The First Nations' designated organization will determine their priorities and proposal process.

7.3.2 Option 2

A First Nations' designated organization or multiple First Nations organizations will work in partnership with ISC to administer the program, for example, a First Nation regional education steering committee.

7.3.3 Option 3

ISC will administer the program in accordance with these guidelines.

7.4 Review and approval process

Depending on the program administration option chosen, proposals will be reviewed and approved by:

  • the First Nations' designated organization


  • a First Nation regional education steering committee


  • ISC

Successful applicants will receive written confirmation of the funding decisions.

8. Managing conflict of interest

It is necessary to avoid actual conflicts of interest and any situation that might cause doubt in objectivity. For recipients receiving funds as a managing organization, a managing conflict of interest procedure needs to be developed and put in place to ensure accountability to First Nations within the respective region.

Recipients that manage the adjudication and administration of the funding of the program must demonstrate transparency and accountability in their policies and processes.

This includes having:

Individuals cannot participate in the evaluation of a proposal in the following situations:

Conflicts of interest may arise during the review of proposals. These situations need to be managed in an open and transparent manner.

Should a situation arise that presents a real or potential conflict of interest during the review process, the impacted individuals must recuse themselves from the deliberations concerning the specific proposal.

9. Funding

Where the program is regionally administered, the First Nations' designated organization may set criteria for funding and will adjudicate based on their regional priorities. In the event of an inconsistency between the criteria for funding and any adjudicative decisions, the First Nations' designated organization's regional priorities will prevail. Regional allocations will be reviewed annually.

9.1 Funding recipients

A funding recipient is a successful applicant who has signed a funding agreement with ISC.

9.2 Duration of funding

2023 to 2024 approved funding will be provided through a 1-year contribution agreement.

A given year's level of approved funding does not guarantee funding or the same level of funding in following years.

Recipients are required to report anticipated deferred or surplus funding to ISC by February 15, 2024 through the Deferred/Surplus Funding Plan annexed to their 2023 to 2024 funding decision letter

9.3 Funding approaches

Transfer payments to Structural Readiness funding recipients will be made using fixed contribution.

Set contribution may be used if the recipient so wishes.

ISC regional officers can provide information on the eligibility requirements of these funding approaches and on the requirements related to the management of the funds.

The funding approach used to transfer funds to a recipient is identified in the recipient's signed funding agreement.

The following specific program directions for the management of transfer payments complement the directions provided in the recipient's signed funding agreement and are to be read in conjunction with the funding agreement.

Set contribution funding

Reallocation of funding:

Reallocation of funds is not allowed with transfer payments made using set contribution.

Fixed contribution funding

Reallocation of funding:

During the fiscal year, recipients may reallocate a reasonable percentage of funds among the eligible activities and expenditures of their ISC-approved proposal for the Structural Readiness component of the program.

Recipients must obtain approval from the ISC officer responsible for the program in their region before reallocating funds.

Unexpended funding:

Recipients may carry over unexpended funding remaining at the end of the fiscal year, for use in the next fiscal year on eligible activities and expenditures outlined in these guidelines.

In exceptional circumstances where the funds cannot be spent on eligible activities and expenditures outlined in these guidelines, recipients may be able to spend the unexpended funds in the next fiscal year on activities and expenditures of another program component.

Recipients must demonstrate their eligibility to the other program component and provide a comprehensive plan for the use of the funds to the ISC officer responsible for the program in their region.

Flexible contribution funding

Reallocation of funding:

During the fiscal year, recipients may reallocate funds among the eligible activities and expenditures of their ISC-approved proposal.

Unexpended funding:

Recipients may carry over unexpended funding remaining at the end of each fiscal year, for use in a subsequent fiscal year to further achieve results toward their ISC-approved proposal. Any unexpended funds remaining after all the mandatory activities of the ISC-approved proposal are delivered, can only be spent on eligible activities and expenditures as outlined in these guidelines.

9.4 No duplication of funding

The Structural Readiness component is designed to be flexible in order to address shared partnership priorities. This component is not designed to supplement or duplicate funding for activities funded by other programs, including ISC's Elementary and Secondary Education program.

10. Reporting requirements and monitoring and oversight activities

10.1 Reporting requirements

The reporting requirements such as program reports and financial reports and their respective due dates are listed in the recipient's funding agreement and details on these requirements are available in the Reporting Guide.

Recipients must report on all funds received and expended, including the use of unexpended funding they were able to retain to use in another fiscal year. Consult the funding approaches section of these guidelines for details on the use of unexpended funds.

Recipients who have access to the ISC Services portal can access the reporting forms by opening a session on the portal. Recipients who do not have access to the portal should contact their regional office.

10.2 Monitoring and oversight

All recipient reporting requirements are subject to monitoring and oversight activities to determine the accuracy of the information provided to ISC.

To ensure that the program or strategy outcomes and objectives are being met and opportunities for continuous improvement with a goal to improve results for Indigenous peoples are being identified, activities including audits, evaluations, as well as targeted program or strategic reviews may be conducted in collaboration with the recipient, for example, desk and on-site reviews.

11. Personal information

ISC's collection and use of personal information and other records for the purposes of targeted program reviews, for example, desk and on-site reviews will be limited to what is necessary to ensure that the Education Partnerships Program delivery requirements are met.

ISC is responsible for all information and records in its possession. The confidentiality of the information will be managed by ISC in accordance with the Privacy Act, R.S.C., 1985, c. P-21 and other related policies on privacy.

Recipients are responsible for the protection of personal information as per provincial privacy statutes and regulations and the recipient's policies up to the point that the personal information is transferred to ISC.

12. Accountability

ISC is committed to providing assistance and mutual accountability to recipients in order to help them effectively carry out their obligations under these guidelines and their funding agreements.

Recipients, including the First Nations designated organization, must:

13. Contact information

To find out more, consult the Education Partnerships Program web page.

Visit the ISC regional offices page to find your regional office contact.

You can also write to:

Education Branch
Indigenous Services Canada
10 rue Wellington - Suite 1455, Mailstop 25E-19
Gatineau QC K1A 0H4

To learn more about education programs, consult the national program guidelines or the "View Instructions" button on the first page of this program's DCI.

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