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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Single-structure primary and lower secondary education


5.Single-structure primary and lower secondary education

Last update: 15 January 2024
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Basic education is guided by the principle of standardized school

Basic education is the minimum compulsory general education, which is acquired in the basic school and which gives the right to continue studies at upper secondary education level. A basic school is a comprehensive school in which each subsequent year (grade) is based directly on the previous one and allows for a smooth transfer from one school to another.

Basic school has grades 1 to 9. With a view to supporting the development of a student and assessing the acquired competence, and development, the national curriculum specifies the outcomes of basic education acquisition by stage of study: 

  • stage I – grades 1–3;
  • stage II – grades 4–6;
  • stage III – grades 7–9.

Basic education can be acquired in a basic school or an upper secondary school with basic school grades. In a basic school studies are pursued either in all basic school grades or only in some consecutive grades. With a view to improving the availability of education, basic schools can be formed (including general education school and child care institution operating as a single institution) which may have grades 1 to 6, depending on the needs and possibilities.

The standard of basic education is determined by the national curriculum for basic schools.

The National Curriculum (2011) establishes:

  • fundamental values of education;
  • teaching and learning objectives;
  • approaches to learning;
  • requirements for learning environment;
  • bases for organisation of teaching and learning;
  • assessment principles and requirements for finishing a year and graduating from a school;
  • fundamentals of preparation of school curriculum;
  • syllabi of subject areas, incl. subject syllabi of compulsory subjects.

According to the national curriculum, the school must assist in raising young people to be creative, versatile individuals, who can operate well in different areas of life such as family, work or public appearance.

The purpose of a basic school is to create an age-appropriate, secure learning environment for students which acts in a positive way and helps their development, and supports the development of intellectual curiosity and learning skills, self-reflection and critical thinking ability, development of their knowledge and qualities related to their will, creative self-expression and social and cultural identity. Basic schools support the development of basic values; students understand the values underlying their actions and feel responsibility for the consequences of their actions.

A basic school helps a student find out about his or her interests, talents and abilities and ensures the readiness for continuing studies at the next stage of study and for lifelong learning. In addition, the curriculum supports a socialisation process of the new generation based on Estonian cultural traditions, European common values and adoption of the achievements of the world culture and science.

The simplified national curriculum for basic schools establishes the standard of basic education for the students with mild learning difficulties, students with moderate learning difficulties, and students with severe and profound learning difficulties.The school as an employer (employment contracts, work time, salary, etc.) is regulated by regulations issued by the Government of the Republic. Regulations issued by the Minister of Social Affairs regulate the questions concerning the health of students.

The rights and duties related to acquiring basic education are regulated by several legal acts. The Constitution determines the right to education. The Child Protection Act provides for the obligations and duties of the state and local governments in guaranteeing the rights and welfare of children.  The Education Act defines the different levels of education, including basic education, the principles of management and organisation of the education system, compulsory school attendance, and also determines the types of educational institutions. The Basic Schools and Upper Secondary Schools Act establishes the basis of organisation of study, the rights and responsibilities of students, parents and school staff as well as the basis of operating and financing a school and of state supervision. The Private Schools Act regulates the same issues in private schools.

Legislative references

The Constitution of the Republic of Estonia

Child Protection Act

Education Act

Basic Schools and Upper Secondary Schools Act

Private Schools Act

National curriculum for basic schools

Simplified national curriculum for basic schools

Conditions and procedure for language and culture teaching

Health protection requirements for schools

Health protection requirements for school timetables and organization of study

Activities to be carried out by nurses providing health services at school and the requirements for the time, scope, availability and location of the activities of the nurses

Setting the minimum rates for the basic school and upper secondary school teachers’ salaries

List of positions of educationalists and scientific workers/scientific staff that are entitled to 56 calendar days of annual leave, and the duration of leave according to positions

Working time of educators