Types of institutions
Institutions providing general secondary education programmes are as follows:
- vidusskola (classes 10-12) – general upper-secondary school
- ģimnāzija/Valsts ģimnāzija (classes 10-12) – gymnasium/State gymnasium; may also provide lower-secondary education programme, that is, last classes of integrated primary and lower-secondary education structure (classes 7-9)
- vakara (maiņas) vidusskola (classes 10-12) – evening school; offers evening classes
These schools usually also provide lower-secondary education programme, that is, last classes of integrated primary and lower-secondary education (classes 7-9) or the whole basic education programme (primary and lower secondary education pamatizglītība).
Each school accepts its Regulations with the consent of the founder and in conformity with the General Education Law. The Regulations defines the legal status, the founder, organization of education process and economical activities, aims and tasks of school, education programmes to be implemented as well as rights and duties of pupils and teachers.
Institutions vary also depending on the language of instruction. Schools offer instruction in Latvian or in Latvian and ethnic minority language (mostly Russian) i.e. bilingually. In ethnic minority programmes instruction in Latvian in upper-secondary schooling, both general and vocational, is gradually increasing.
The government and municipalities are responsible for maintaining various types of schools in all areas of the country to ensure the accessibility of education.
In Latvia, primary and lower-secondary education programmes as well as upper-secondary education programmes are often provided by one and the same school, called upper-secondary school vidusskola. Therefore the pupil can complete compulsory pamatizglītība education (classes 1-9) and upper-secondary education (classes 10-12) in the same school.
Several municipalities provide transportation to and from school for pupils living in rural areas, if it is not possible to use public transportation.
There was a tendency under the soviet regime to close small rural schools; some of them have been reopened since 1994. The maintenance of these is once again becoming problematic for the municipalities, as it is more expensive to operate small schools. Currently, in rural areas, it is planned to implement the principle “the younger the child is, the more close the school is”, thus schools providing upper secondary education would be maintained in centres of the regions, while small schools providing basic education (primary and lower secondary pamatizglītība) would receive special financial support. Interactive Schools’ map of Latvia provides information on number of pupils in each school.
Upper secondary education is provided in evening schools also in extramural form. Besides upper secondary education can also be acquired in the form of distance learning, for instance, at Riga Distance Education School.
Admission requirements and choice of school
According to General Education Law everyone who has completed integrated primary and lower-secondary education (pamatizglītība) has the right to enter general and/or vocational upper-secondary education without age limit. A certificate of integrated primary and lower-secondary general education apliecība par vispārējo pamatizglītību and an achievement sheet is necessary for admission in both general and vocational upper-secondary school vidusskola.
Pupils are free to apply for admission to the preferred school. Each school (with the consent of the founder) is allowed to define its own admission criteria. This applies also to the institutions providing upper-secondary vocational and post-secondary vocational programmes.
When admitting students into upper-secondary education programmes, schools are free to hold entrance examinations according to integrated primary and lower-secondary or pamatizglītība education standard, except in those subjects for which students have received national testing at the end of 9th grade.
The decision on admission into an upper-secondary school should be made within 5 working days after entrance examination. If the pupil is not admitted, he/she can require an extract from the protocol of the upper-secondary school examination pointing out the results of examination.
Age levels and grouping of pupils
In general upper-secondary education, all pupils have a class teacher as their educational supervisor. The teacher assists with making study plans, monitors their attendance and acts as an intermediary between the pupil and other teachers or the school authorities, as well as between the school and the family. Normally this teacher stays with the class for all the three general upper-secondary education years.
The class (group) size may differ in several subjects, where more individual approach is used in teaching, like in foreign languages. Usually the class (group) is divided in two or three groups in order to pay the necessary attention to everyone. In vocational programmes, the group is divided also during the field practice.
General secondary education lasts three years. A general vidusskola includes classes 10, 11 and 12. Classes are made up of pupils of the same age, except if a pupil has to repeat a year. In general, the age of pupils is 16-19 years.
Organisation of the school year
The organisation of the school year and its length is stipulated by the General Education Law. The start and the end of school year for general education are determined centrally each year. Number of days in the school year may vary from year to year (the Cabinet of Ministers issues a regulation on this every year), it depends also on the class.
There are differences regarding the length of the school year. In general upper-secondary education, for classes 10 and 11 the school year lasts 35 weeks, but for 12th class – 38 weeks.
An extension of the school year for classes 10 and 11 may be appointed, if specific circumstances hindering education process have arisen during the school year (e.g. – cold weather, strike, emergency situation in school, etc.). The decision has to be made by the founder.
Organisation of the school day and week
The organisation of school week and pupil study load is also prescribed by the General Education Law. The school week in general upper-secondary schools lasts 5 days. The school day may contain a maximum of 8 lessons. The duration of lessons is either 40 or 45 minutes, it is upon the decision of the school head.
Other arrangements of the school day are not centrally regulated. Each school issues its own internal regulations. Starting time of lessons usually is either 8:00 or 8:30. A school may be open from 7:00 to 19:00 (depends on institution). According to the regulations of the Cabinet of Ministers the lunch break can be organised from 11 am and it must be at least 30 minutes long. All activities inside a school, including extra-curricular and hobby education, and sports activities for upper-secondary students may last for instance not later than 21:00 or 22:00 (depending on school).
In general secondary schools study load for classes 10-12 may not exceed 36 lessons (teaching lessons) per week. The minimum study load of pupil in general secondary programme is 3150 lessons, maximum – 3780 lessons. Pupils choose courses from the subjects offered by the school so that the total number of lessons during three years of studies stays within the named limits.