Types of institutions
The lower secondary education sector consists of:
- Compulsory secondary school (Mittelschule)
- Academic secondary school / lower cycle (Allgemein bildende höhere Schule (AHS) – Unterstufe). From the third grade onwards, pupils can choose between other special focuses:
- Grammar school branch (Gymnasium) with Latin or a modern foreign language
- Science branch (Realgymnasium) with geometric drawing, more mathematics and technical shop
- Economics branch (Wirtschaftskundliches Realgymnasium) with more economics
- Special needs school / upper cycle (Sonderschule)
Compulsory secondary school (Mittelschule) is a school for 10- to 14-year-olds that prepares pupils both for upper secondary schools and also for professional life. Until school year 2019/20 it was named new secondary school (Neue Mittelschule). Compulsory secondary school is attended after grade 4 of primary school and covers years 5 to 8. Compulsory secondary schools define their own special focuses autonomously.
The providers of compulsory secondary schools are the municipalities and associations of municipalities.
Children and young people with special needs can be integrated into classes of compulsory secondary schools and are supported by integration teachers. They can also attend a special needs school (aged 6-15 years). The providers of special needs schools are the provinces and the municipalities.
Academic secondary school (AHS) is subdivided into a four-year lower cycle (for pupils aged 10 to 14 years) and a four-year upper cycle (for pupils aged 14 to 18). The school provider of AHS is the federal government.
Both the federal government and also the provincial governments, municipalities and associations of municipalities are in charge of ensuring there are enough schools of high quality available.
Access to compulsory secondary schools and special needs schools is guaranteed in all regions of Austria. By law, school providers must ensure that there are sufficient compulsory secondary schools and special needs schools. All pupils of statutory school age (at least aged 10 years) can attend compulsory secondary schools within a reasonable travel distance (§ 2 Basic Act on the Maintenance of Compulsory Schools).
For academic secondary schools the federal level is responsible for ensuring that there are enough schools.
Today, the high density of academic secondary schools also enables children and young people who live in remote areas to attend these schools. Organised transport by municipalities or the school means that the time that students need to get to school can be kept at reasonable levels.
Admission requirements and choice of school
Admission to compulsory secondary and academic secondary school requires successful completion of the 4th grade of primary school, which means that the pupils’ end-of-year report must not contain the mark “fail” in any compulsory subject.
For compulsory secondary schools with a focus on music, compulsory secondary schools with a focus on sports, and compulsory secondary schools with a focus on skiing, the prerequisite is successful completion of the aptitude exam.
Another prerequisite for admission to the lower cycle of academic secondary school is to have good or excellent German, reading and arithmetic knowledge. The class conference of primary school can allow pupils to transfer to academic secondary school even if they are marked “satisfactory” in one subject. If they do not meet these prerequisites, they can take an entrance exam. The chances of access to this school may increase if pupils can demonstrate appropriate educational achievements, live near the school or already have siblings who go to this school.
If a student’s admission is rejected, his/her parents may demand a decision be issued in writing, against which they may lodge an appeal with the school authority (board of education).
Age levels and grouping of pupils/students
Classes in compulsory secondary school are taught according to the same pupils’ age, e.g. in the first class there are usually pupils aged 10 to 11, in the second class there are pupils aged 11 to 12, etc. The number of pupils per class is according to § 21h of the School Organisation Act: The number of pupils in a class of a compulsory secondary school shall be determined by the school head taking into account the requirements of pedagogy and safety, the pupils’ need for support, the spatial possibilities and the possible burden on teachers, and the teaching staff resources allocated to the school in accordance with § 8a (3). § 8a (2) shall apply.
In the school year 2019/2020, pupils from the sixth grade onwards can be specifically supported according to their performance level: Those schools that want to continue working in German, mathematics and English with team teaching can do so. This level of performance is referred to as “standard”. However, schools can also instruct their pupils in these subjects in homogeneous groups in terms of performance levels (“standard AHS” for academic secondary school). There are thus two performance levels: “standard” and “standard AHS”. The decision as to whether homogeneous (“standard AHS”) or heterogeneous (“standard”) groups of pupils are to be taught is made at the school location. Through measures of differentiation as well as the promotion of giftedness and the gifted, pupils are to be guided, wherever possible, to the educational goal of the respective performance level “standard” or “standard AHS”.
In the lower cycle of academic secondary school, classes are organised by age groups and are not grouped according to learning abilities. The number of pupils per class is according to § 43 of the School Organisation Act. The number of pupils per class
- in academic secondary school and,
- in special forms with modular teaching organisation, the number of students attending a module
shall be determined by the school head taking into account the requirements of pedagogy and safety, the pupils’ need for support, the spatial possibilities and the possible burden on teachers, and the teaching staff resources allocated to the school in accordance with § 8a (3). § 8a (2) shall apply.
Organisation of the school year
The organisation of the school year is governed by the School Periods Act. The organisation is largely the same for the entire school system.
The provinces, which are competent for legislation in this matter for compulsory schools, have closely followed the federal provisions in their implementing legislation.
The school year begins in September and lasts 10 months. It is followed by the main summer holidays, which last for approx. 9 weeks. The school year is broken down into 2 semesters. The first semester ends between the first and the third week of February. The term break between the two semesters lasts for one week. There are holidays at Christmas (14 days), at Easter (10 days), Autumn holidays (5 days) and at Whitsun (4 days).
The exact beginning and end of the school year differs between provinces. In the provinces of Burgenland, Lower Austria and Vienna, the school year starts between 1 and 7 September and ends between 28 June and 4 July. In the provinces of Carinthia, Upper Austria, Salzburg, Styria, Tyrol and Vorarlberg it begins between 8 and 14 September and ends between 5 July and 11 July.
Organisation of the school day and week
Classes usually start at 8.00 a.m. In individual cases, instruction can be brought forward to 7.00 a.m. Classes must end by 6.00 p.m. at the latest. The maximum number of lessons on each school day is 8. The number of weekly lessons varies between school grades and school types. The school administration is obliged to spread the total number of weekly lessons as evenly as possible over all days of instruction.
As a rule, there is no school on Saturdays at the lower level of secondary education.
In general, lessons last for 50 minutes, the units may be extended or shortened for pedagogical or organisational reasons. Due to more project-based activities, cultural projects, sports and other activities, "classic" lesson periods are also supplemented by longer "blocks of instruction". Furthermore, individual subjects can be combined into "extended subjects" (fields of learning). Breaks between the individual lessons last for 5 to 15 minutes. Where lessons are also held in the afternoon, there must be a sufficiently long lunch break. This usually lasts for one hour. There exists no relevant legal regulation.
All-day school forms are broken down into instruction periods and assisted periods. The assisted period comprises subject-related and individual learning times, a leisure section and a meal section. The instruction and assisted periods can be organised separately or they can overlap alternately.