Skip to main content
European Commission logo
EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Organisation of single-structure education


5.Single-structure primary and lower secondary education

5.1Organisation of single-structure education

Last update: 27 November 2023

Geographical Accessibility

In organisation of study, the state, school owners and schools follow the principle that quality general education must be equally accessible to all persons irrespective of their social and economic background, nationality, gender, place of residence or special educational need.

A rural municipality or city shall provide a child subject to the duty to attend school, whose place of residence is located in the administrative territory of the rural municipality or city, with the opportunity to perform the duty to attend school and obtain basic education according to the relevant curriculum. In order to do that, the local municipality determines which school is a child’s school of residence. When determining the school of residence, closeness of home to school, attendance of the same family’s children at the same school and, if possible, parents’ wishes are taken into account.

At the request of a parent, a rural municipality or a city shall provide the child of a representative of a foreign country or international organisation accredited to the Republic of Estonia who resides in the rural municipality or city with opportunities for the acquisition of basic education in the school of residence.

The development of school network takes into consideration that at least 80% of the students for whom a basic school is the school of residence may not spend more than 60 minutes for getting to school. Students’ travel to school and back is free of charge and organised by local municipalities – bearing in mind that the distance walked by a student may not exceed 3 km.

A student acquiring basic education may be taught by way of home educating at the request of a parent or for health reasons.

A rural municipality or city shall provide persons aged 17 years or older, who have not acquired basic education and whose place of residence is located in the rural municipality or city with opportunities for the acquisition of basic education by way of non-stationary studies.

Admission Requirements and Choice of School

Children who have attained 7 years of age by 1 October of the current year are admitted to a school. Students are subject to the obligation to attend school until they acquire basic education or attain 17 years of age.

Based on the expected basic skills of 6-7-year-old children specified in the national curriculum for preschool child care institutions, the school-readiness of children is assessed in preschool child care institutions. A preschool child care institution issues a readiness for school card to a child who has completed the national curriculum for preschool child care institutions that describes the results of the development of the child from cognitive, physical and social aspects. A parent submits the readiness for school card to the school where the child commences his or her studies.

Children below the age of compulsory school attendance can also commence school studies if the parent so wishes and if an external advisory team or the child care institution that the child attends has assessed the child’s readiness for school and has recommended commencement of school studies. A parent of a child who, due to his or her state of health, has not achieved the readiness for school required for commencement of studies by the time of reaching the age of compulsory school attendance, may submit to the external advisory team an application for the postponement of the commencement of performance of the duty to attend school by one year.

A school is obliged to admit all persons subject to the duty to attend school who have expressed such desire and for whom the school has been set as the school of residence by a local authority. Upon determining the school of residence, the material circumstances to be considered include the proximity of the place of residence of a student to the school, the enrolment of the other children of the same family in the same school and, where possible, the requests of the parents.

Students are admitted to a school of residence without admission tests. Parents are free to choose a school for their children subject to the obligation to attend school outside their place of residence if vacant places in that school are available. Some schools with language or other profound studies may organise admission tests for the candidates to find out their capabilities and talents.

In private schools a teachers’ council can also establish additional conditions for admitting students.

In case it is not possible to organise studies in the school of residence due to a student’s special educational needs, the rural municipality or city of the student’s place of residence is obliged, in cooperation with other schools and owners of schools, to find opportunities of acquisition of education for the student in accordance with the recommendations of the counselling committee, and organise the student’s transport to the school or compensate for the travel expenses.     

In case of a student who has arrived from a foreign school or a student who has studied under a different curriculum, the teachers’ council will decide the appropriate grade in which the student continues his or her studies.

A student of the age of compulsory school attendance is excluded from the student list of the schoolif a parent has submitted the respective application to the school or if the student has commenced the acquisition of education in another school or in a foreign educational institution. A studentwho, on a temporary basis, acquires education in a foreign educational institution, shall not be excluded from the list of the students of the school during the standard period of study if home educating is applied to the student.

The school will allow students acquiring basic education to freely use educational literature (for example, textbooks, workbooks, exercise books and worksheets) required for completion of at least the school curriculum.

Age Levels and Grouping of Students

Basic school has 3 stages:  stage I – grades 1–3; stage II – grades 4–6; stage III – grades 7–9. Usually children of the same age go to the same class. Due to flexible organisation of studies (also children younger than the age of compulsory school attendance may commence school studies and it is possible to postpone the commencement of performance of the duty to attend school; it is possible, based on an individual curriculum compiled for a student, to either prolong or shorten the time for completing a grade; or the basis of a decision of the teachers' council, students may be required to a grade), the age difference of students in one class may be 1–3 years. According to the Basic Schools and Upper Secondary Schools Act, the upper limit of the size of a class or study group is 24 students in basic school. The owner of a school may, based on a proposal of the head of the school and with the approval of the board of trustees, also establish an upper limit higher than the upper limit specified above, or, in exceptional cases, increase the number of students in one specific class for one academic year provided that all health-protection and safety requirements are met. If the number of students of two or three classes together is 16 or less, a composite class may be formed of these students.

Based on the special educational needs of a student, the school provides the student with enhanced support or special support, studies at home for health reasons, non-stationary studies with regard to the student who is under the obligation to attend school, reduces and replaces the learning outcomes provided for in the national curriculum in one or more subjects, recommends the application of studies for students with mild learning difficulties, students with moderate learning difficulties and students with severe and profound learning difficulties, or releases the student from having to study a mandatory subject. In classes for students with special educational needs and depending on the requirements of the support applied, a lower upper limit of the size of a class may be established. The owner of the school may, where justified, increase the number of students of a specific special class for one academic year on a proposal of the head of school and with the consent of the board of trustees. 

In grades 1–6, one and the same teacher (a class teacher) usually teaches almost all subjects. Starting from grade 7, subject teachers teach one subject or more according to their qualification. Subject teachers may teach one or more subjects according to their qualification also in grades 1–6. From stage II, in technology classes students are divided into study groups on the basis of their requests and interests and regardless of their gender. Further, from stage II, there are separate classes in physical education for boys and girls. Students can also be divided into groups in a foreign language and other lessons if the budget of the school so allows. It is also possible to better support the development of students by temporarily organising studies in groups based on the abilities and special needs of the students, or applying one-to-one teaching. 

Organisation of the School Year

The organisation of an academic year is regulated by the Basic Schools and Upper Secondary Schools Act.

An academic year lasts from 1 September of the current year until 31 August of the next year. An academic year consists of academic quarters and school holidays. An academic year contains 175 days of study (35 weeks). On the day of a final examination and on two preceding days, there are no lessons but these days are included in the number of school days.

The Minister of Education and Research determines school holidays for the subsequent three academic years. There are five school holidays, which usually divide an academic year into 35-day cycles of studies. School holidays usually last for one week, winter holidays last between 2 and 3 weeks. The summer holiday usually starts in the second week of June and lasts until 31 August.  

On the basis of a proposal of the head of the school and with the approval of the board of trustees, the manager of a school may establish school holidays different from those established by the Minister of Education and Research, taking into consideration that during the academic year there are four school holidays with a total duration of at least 12 weeks, whereby the summer holiday lasts at least eight consecutive weeks.

In a basic school, activities relating to additional studies may be organised during the summer holiday, taking into account that a holiday of no less than ten weeks is ensured for a student. The Private Schools Act provides that students shall have at least 8 weeks of holiday per academic year, of which two weeks shall be during the academic year.

The maximum weekly workload of a basic school student is specified in the Basic Schools and Upper Secondary Schools Act:

  • 20 lessons in grade 1;
  • 23 lessons in grade 2;
  • 25 lessons in grade 3 and 4;
  • 28 lessons in grade 5;
  • 30 lessons in grade 6 and 7;
  • 32 lessons in grade 8 and 9.

A student’s weekly workload by subject is determined by a school curriculum.

While providing instruction, a school may change or adjust the time, contents, process and environment of study to support the individual development of a student. If the changes or adjustments substantially increase or decrease the weekly workload or intensity of studies in comparison with the school curriculum or reduce or replace the learning outcomes provided for in the national curricula, an individual curriculum must be drawn up for the student.

Organisation of the School Day and Week

One week includes up to five school days. The daily schedule of a school or a student’s individual curriculum determines the number of lessons within a school day and the duration and sequence thereof. At the first stage of study students have usually 4 to 5 lessons per day; at the second and third stage of study students have up to 7 lessons per day. The estimated duration of a lesson is 45 minutes. A lesson can be divided into several parts and up to two lessons can be conducted without a break.

Lessons start at 8 a.m. or later. At the first stage of study, lessons finish usually between noon and 1 p.m., at 2 p.m. at the second stage of study and from 3 to 4 p.m. at the third stage of study.

In most schools children attend school in one shift, only 1% of schools have organised studies in two shifts.

Lessons alternate with breaks of at least 10 minutes per a lesson of 45 minutes. The longest break of a school day is the lunch break, which is usually between 10 a.m. and noon; its duration is established by the school.

To avoid school exhaustion, study activities must be distributed evenly between school days of an academic year.

For grades 1-4, lessons are held in the same classroom; from grade 5, students move from one classroom to another during a school day.

All students can have warm lunch at school every day. Support for covering school lunch expenses of students acquiring basic and secondary education in municipal and private schools is allocated from the state budget. Schools can also offer students breakfast or afternoon meal.

The head of a school may, with the consent of the owner, form long day groups at school for basic school students. In long day groups students are supervised, guided in spending free time, doing homework and pursuing hobbies. In the schools where studies are conducted in two shifts long day groups may operate also in the morning. In extracurricular activities a student has the right to use for free the civil engineering works, rooms and library, teaching and learning, sports, technical and other facilities of the school pursuant to the procedure provided for in the internal rules of the school.

After the end of lessons, students can also take part in the activities of hobby groups operating in school, i.e. activities of different hobby groups and trainings.

Legislative References

Basic Schools and Upper Secondary Schools Act

General conditions and procedure for admission of students to school and procedure for exclusion of students from school

Conditions and procedure for language and culture teaching