A highly fragmented settlement structure is typical in Hungary. There is no need for schools in every settlement; one-third of the country’s 3154 settlements has less than 500 inhabitants, where only 3% of the whole population lives. In some settlements with a few thousand residents or less, there are no schools due to the low number of pupils, or in some cases, schools providing only primary phase education (grades 1 to 4) or only lower secondary phase education (grades 5 to 8) based on local needs.
In the school year 2020/21, there were 3821 single structure schools. Half of the single structure schools are located in cities, collecting more than two-thirds of pupils. In cities typically more than one single structure school is operated. This means that children can go to schools close to their homes. In fact, the majority of them also has the opportunity to choose among several settlement-based educational institutions (free choice of school).
Schools with high numbers of commuting pupils frequently adapt their work schedules to timetables of public transport (buses or trains). In some cases, teachers travel (travelling teachers) between schools, in particular for providing pedagogical assistance services (e.g. speech therapy) or for the quality teaching of specialised subjects at lower secondary level.
Admission Requirements and Choice of School
Every child has to participate in education in Hungary. Children are of school age when they reach the stage of development necessary to pass to school, which is usually certified by the kindergarten. If the child’s stage of development cannot be assessed unambiguously, or the child has not attended kindergarten, or the parent disagrees with the opinion of the kindergarten, an examination can be requested with the expert committee to determine whether the child’s stage of development is adequate to pass to school. The examination may be requested by the kindergarten, the parent or the school head in the manner stipulated in Ministerial Decree 20/2012 (VIII.31.) on the Operation of Educational Institutions and the Use of Names of Public Education Institutions and Ministerial Decree 15/2013.
Children are enrolled in single structure schools by each district of their home. The boundaries of the districts are defined and published by the school district. Single structure schools cannot refuse to admit children and pupils living within their respective districts. They cannot organise entrance examinations. Exceptions are single structure schools providing advanced level education in sports and arts, where aptitude tests may be organised under the school’s teaching programme. If more than one single structure school or member institution or unit operates in a settlement or a district, the single structure school districts must be determined so as to ensure the equal ratio of multiple disadvantaged pupils in all educational institutions. (The ratio of multiple disadvantaged pupils in each district may only be 15 percentage points higher than the ratio of multiple disadvantaged pupils attending primary school calculated for the whole settlement or district.)
The principle of free choice of school applies insofar as any parent can apply for the admission of his/her child to an out-of-district school but the school head has the right to deny the application. If a single structure school can grant additional applications for admission after admitting all applicants from its districts, it is obliged to grant the applications of multiple disadvantaged pupils first. The possibility of additional admission has to be published in the customary manner of the institution at least fifteen days before the first day of the period available for the submission of applications for admission. Preference has to be given to those multiple disadvantaged pupils whose domicile or place of residence is in the settlement where the seat of the school is situated. After the admission of multiple disadvantaged pupils, preference has to be given to applicants whose domicile or place of residence is in the settlement where the seat of the school is situated. If a single structure school cannot grant all the applications for admission due to lack of space according to the order specified above, they decide between the applicants by drawing lots. Those who have submitted an application for admission have to be invited to the draw. The details and rules of the draw shall be specified in the Regulations of the School. After having granted the applications of disadvantaged pupils and pupils with special education needs, pupils whose admission is justified by their special situation may be admitted without a draw. Such special situation is if the pupil has a seriously ill or disabled parent or sibling, or if the pupil’s sibling already attends the school or the parent’s workplace is located in the vicinity of the school.
Age Levels and Grouping of Pupils
Education in the single structure school is divided into primary and lower secondary phases. In grades 1 to 4 (i.e. in the primary phase), only a few teachers, typically 2, educate a study group within the framework of generalist education. As pupils pass from one grade to the next, the number of their teachers also grows and, in grade 4, already quite a number of subjects are taught by specialised teachers (e.g. foreign languages, IT studies, science). Lessons by specialised teachers may be introduced in lower grades as well as for physical education, singing & music, as well as for foreign languages. From the 5th grade onwards, there is a specialised education in which each subject is taught by different specialist teachers, but in grades 5-6, teachers in the relevant subject area may also participate in subject education. (Single-grade teachers are becoming more common among young teachers, which result in that the number of teachers in a class may be as high as 8-10 in grades 5-8.)
At the beginning of school, the age difference between pupils in one class is maximum 2 years, which increases in the upper grades due to repeaters, but typically pupils of the same age study in a class. It is typical of basic education that only one teacher, or just a few of them, teaches/teach a class for several years (in lower grades). The practice of staying together for 2 or 4 years is present in approx. 50-50%. In order to facilitate the entry to the upper grade, there has been a tendency for at least one (lower grade) teacher to stay with the class in these two years as well. The legal condition for this is that the teacher in question also has a qualification of a specialist teacher entitled to teach the given subject, or his/her teacher diploma certifies that he/she has obtained a qualification in the relevant field of education. The educational-organisational unit created for at least one school year from pupils attending the same school site is the school class. The maintainer determines the number of classes to be organised per grade, while the size of classes is provided by law. The school head decides about the division of the children admitted to the school into groups, taking the opinion of the team of teachers of the same subject or the teaching staff.
Pursuant to the National Public Education Act, multigrade classes may be organised in the primary phase of single structure school, in elementary arts schools, in special schools and in conductive pedagogical educational institutions, as well as in schools operating under alternative programmes, from pupils of minimum two, maximum four grades, after authorisation.
The class teacher organises the school life of pupils belonging to the same class and fulfils relevant administrative tasks, for which he/she is remunerated with a special allowance.
In Hungarian single structure schools, education typically takes place within the framework of school classes but, to promote more efficient fulfilment of certain educational and teaching goals, schools may break down classes into groups or organise groups from pupils of several classes or grades. The maximum number of pupils in a group may be 50% of the number of pupils in a class. The school determines how many per cent of the time frame available for the organisation of compulsory and optional curricular lessons they wish to use for dividing the classes and what curricular lesson is to be held in that time frame. The teaching of foreign languages and information technology typically takes place in smaller groups; and the number of pupils in a group is basically determined by the funding available.
The principles of the division of pupils into classes and groups are laid down in the school’s pedagogical programme, and the school head decides on their actual implementation. It is typical that specialist teachers teach a class during the entire teaching period of a subject or until the end of the eighth grade. According to the Public Education Act, in grades 1-8, the average number of pupils in a class is 23 and the maximum number is 27. With the permission of the maintainer, the maximum number of classes per school class may be exceeded by up to twenty percent at the start of the school year, and irrespective of the number of classes or groups started during the school year, even if justified by new enrolment.
Organization of the School Year
The Minister responsible for education specifies the school year schedule in a ministerial decree for each school year. As a general rule, the school term-time commences on the first working day of September every year and concludes on the working day that precedes 16 June. In addition, the abovementioned decree provides for the effective number of school days, designates term-time school holidays (autumn, winter and spring holidays) and contains provisions for the working days without teaching.
The number of working days without teaching is determined by the ministerial decree on the schedule of the school year. However, the student council is authorised to decide, after consulting the teaching staff, on the programme of one out of the five working days without teaching. Schools may deviate under the conditions specified in the Public Education Act from the schedule but may not amend the commencing and concluding days of the school year. Each school has to prepare an annual working plan that schedules the working days without teaching and the holidays in accordance with the ministerial decree on the school year.
The school year is divided into two terms. Pupils have school holidays at least three times in a school year (autumn, winter and spring holidays), composed of a minimum of six consecutive days. A summer holiday has to be provided following the last day of the teaching year, it has to be composed of at least sixty consecutive days.
Organization of the School Day and Week
A teaching year consists of five-day school weeks. Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays are resting days without teaching. If justified, school weeks can also be organised with six school days, including Saturdays, subject to the approval of the maintainer, and provided that at least thirty-six hours of uninterrupted weekly rest time is provided for pupils, and the “cancelled” weekly resting days are used in the course of the term as one or more unbroken school holidays.
Pupils’ school engagement consists of compulsory and optional curricular lessons, the number of which is regulated in the Public Education Act. For the weekly timeframe of pupils, refer to the table below. (The daily physical education class was introduced for the first and fifth grades of the 2012/13 school year, in a phasing-out system.)
Weekly timeframe of students
The number of the compulsory and optional academic hours of a student – on a school day cannot be more than
- six academic hours in grade 1-4,
- seven academic hours in grade 5-8 and in the language preparatory year,
- eight academic hours in grade 9- 13.
The sum of student’s compulsory and optional academic hours on an academic week can be maximum
- twenty-four academic hours in grade 1-4,
- twenty academic hours in grade 4,
- twenty-eight academic hours in grade 5-6,
- thirty academic hours in grade 7-8,
Fields of studies (school subjects)
Grades of educational stages
Hungarian grammar and literature
History and citizenship - (history, citizenship, Ethnography and Ethnology)
Ethics / R.E. (religious education)- and moral philosophy
Natural Sciences and Geography (science, natural sciences, biology, chemistry, physics, geography)
Foreign Languages - (first and second foreign languages)
Art - (music, drama and theatre, visual culture, motion picture culture and media studies)
Technology - (design and technology, digital culture)
Physical Education - (P.E.)
Community education (form class)
Mandatory basic subjects
Freely allotted academic time
Maximum academic time frame
The school may use the difference between the number of the pupils’ compulsory lessons and the authorized weekly time frame for lessons or other activities or may break down classes into smaller groups. Schools are obliged to spend the part of the authorised weekly time frame not used for compulsory lessons on organising activities for talent support, remedial education for disadvantaged pupils, tutoring for pupils with behavioural and learning difficulties and customized tutoring for pupils in grades 1-4. One more lesson per week per class is provided for talent support and catch up activities above the time frame of classes shown in the table above.
Schools may also organise other extracurricular lessons (study circles, interest circles, school sports clubs, choirs etc.) in accordance with the interest and needs of pupils and on the basis of their own pedagogical programmes. They include afternoon day care and afternoon tutoring, which provide an organised opportunity for preparation for lessons if needed. For this purpose, daily time frames of four and a half hours are available in grades 1 to 4 and three hours are available in grades 5 to 8 and in all grades of schools participating in special needs education.
Lessons may be compulsory, elective or optional for pupils. The local curriculum determines the compulsory lessons which all pupils of a given class must attend and the number of compulsory lessons which the pupils must attend based on their selection of elective subjects, as defined in the local curriculum. If at his/her request, a pupil has been admitted to an optional lesson, he/she is obliged to attend that lesson until the end of the teaching year.
In single structure schools, activities are held at least until 4 p.m., and the supervision of pupils must be arranged for until 5 p.m. or until the pupils can lawfully stay in the institution. After the lessons – typically in grades 1-4 – the school organizes a day-care session for children of families who need it, in which participation is voluntary.
Full-time school education may be organized by the single structure school, if necessary. In the case of full-time education and training, compulsory and optional classes, day-care activities and everyday physical education classes should be organized in a uniform manner in the morning and in the afternoon, taking into account the proportional burden on pupils. This form of education, mostly organized from 8 am to 4 pm, encompasses the entire process of development tailored to the individual abilities of the pupils, providing opportunities for rest, relaxation, fun and exercise.
Opening hours for educational institutions and principles of organising lessons and breaks are set forth in the Public Education Act and Ministerial Decree 20/2012 on the Operation of Educational Institutions, while the specific rules of implementation are defined in schools’ local organisational and operational rules and internal regulations. Schools are responsible for setting their schedules of lessons and extracurricular activities, including the duration of breaks between lessons in their pedagogical programmes and internal regulations. The first lesson may be started, after consulting the school board or the school’s parental organisation and the student union, by not more than 45 minutes before 8 a.m. pursuant to the relevant decree (Ministerial Decree 20/2012).
In the case of theoretical education, the duration of one class is forty-five minutes. The school may arrange shorter or longer classes, provided that the duration of the classes is not less than thirty-five minutes and not more than one hundred and thirty-five minutes, for the purpose of calculating this, the teaching hours shall be calculated in terms of forty-five minutes.
There should be a break between classes and other activities for pupils.
Schedule of school days
LENGTH OF SCHOOL DAYS
(starting and finishing times in the morning)
(starting and finishing times in the afternoon)
Optional, 7.00-8.00 a.m.
Typically 8.00-12.00 a.m. or 1.00/2.00 p.m.
Not typical, but a break must be provided between lessons and extracurricular activities
12.00 a.m. - 3.00 p.m.
Resting day without teaching