The government and municipalities are responsible for maintaining various types of schools in all areas of the country to ensure the accessibility of education. Every municipality is obligated to provide a possibility to acquire pamatizglītība (integrated primary and lower-secondary) education in the school closest to the dwelling-place of the children living in its administrative territory.
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 (grades 1-9) and upper-secondary education (grades 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.
In 2017, the Ministry of Education and Science published geospatial planning platform Schools’ map. This tool helps parents, students, education policy-makers to get information about the school network of Latvia. The interactive tool offers information on more than 600 schools, including:
- number of students,
- qualitative indicators,
- indexes of centralised exams,
- sports infrastructure available at regions,
- inhabitants' number forecast, etc.
The new platform may help not only to education specialists and decision-makers, but also to parents, allowing to take informed decision about choice of a school, taking into account geographical accessibility, too.
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 - according to the data gathered by Latvian Trade Union of Education and Science Employees (LIZDA), 25% (or about 228 in 2013) of all schools were small rural schools with less than 100 pupils.
In 2009, the Emergency Fund of Open Society Institute (Soros Foundation) funded a project in Latvia “Development of small schools into community learning and culture centres”. In the framework of the project support has been given to 53 small schools transforming these schools into community centres, supplementing the functions of education institution with other activities which are necessary for local community. In that way both the school premises are fully used and their maintenance costs are covered. According to the community school model (school model where a community school is both a place and a set of partnerships between the school and other community resources) educational process is viewed jointly with social development and welfare factors. The project Pārmaiņu skolas (the Change Opportunities for Small Schools Initiative) funded by Soros Foundation tried to implement this approach in Latvia in cooperation with local communities. The Change Opportunities for Small Schools Initiative was very important in the context of current national education policy: small rural schools are not just educational establishments, but also a matter of the overall development of the state. Small schools do sustain life in rural areas since they serve as one of the key development points of that particular neighbourhood, said Roberts Kilis, the former Education and Science Minister.
Admission requirements and choice of school
The requirement for enrolment in the 1st class is reaching the age of compulsory schooling. The General Education Law states that children are obligated to start schooling in the calendar year when they attain 7 years of age. It is possible to start schooling a year earlier or later in line with the conclusion of the family doctor and if the parents wish so. In this situation health and psychological preparedness is taken into account.
The procedure is as follows: parents (guardians) notify the school that they want the child to attend. The school sends written response to parents, whether or not the child is admitted. If it is not possible to admit the child (because of limited number of places), the school head sends a motivated reply to parents and the copy of this document to the Board of Education, which further notifies parents about free places in other schools.This procedure is regulated by the Procedures for Enrolling Students in and Discharging from General Educational Institutions and Special Pre-school Educational Groups, and also for Moving Them up into the Next Grade (2015).
A school providing compulsory (integrated primary and lower-secondary) education may not organize admission tests. However, enrolment of a student in general lower-education (second stage of pamatizglītība, grades 7–9) in a gymnasium or a State gymnasium or in general secondary educational programme is organised according to the following conditions:
- the student may take not more than two entrance examinations;
- a commission has been established, which prepares the programme and content of entrance examinations, and also determine the criteria and procedures for evaluation;
- by an order of the director the term for applying for entrance examinations has been announced, and the procedures for the course and evaluation have been notified;
- results of the entrance examinations are recorded in minutes and the minutes are signed by all members of the commission of entrance examination;
- the student has to be informed about the results of the entrance examination within five working days after the entrance examination.
It is compulsory to attend school until children acquire compulsory education or reach 18 years of age. Children who have reached the age of compulsory education are accounted at the central level, and their attendance of compulsory school is monitored through the Register of Residents, local governments, educational boards and educational institutions.
Age levels and grouping of pupils
During the first stage of single structure education sākumskola (which corresponds to primary education) most subjects are taught by teacher-generalist, who is replaced by subject specialists or semi-specialists for separate subject classes. Later, in the classes 5-9 a specialist subject teacher or semi-specialist teacher teaches each subject.
All pupils have a class teacher as their educational supervisor. The teacher monitors their progress, 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.
Classes are made up of pupils of the same age, except if a pupil has to repeat the year. However, the Procedures for Enrolling Students in and Discharging from General Educational Institutions and Special Pre-school Educational Groups, and also for Moving Them up into the Next Grade (2015) stipulate mandatory support measures for students with learning difficulties so that they would repeat a year only in certain cases.
Also, in order to reduce bureaucratic obstacles in 2009, the regulations on minimum and maximum number of students in class were abolished and its up to schools and municipalities to determine the number of students in class, however taking into account necessary health and safety requirements.
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 age (grade of students).
In Latvia, all education institutions are usually open almost all the year round. Someone from administration and a school person on duty is always present at school. Besides, school gym-hall is usually used also during summer holidays, and the school library may be accessible to the general public, particularly in rural area.
The start date of the school year generally is the 1st of September. School year lasts till the end of May, except for the grade 9th, in which the final exams may be organized also in June.
The school year lasts:
- for grade 1st – 34 weeks,
- grades 2-8 –35 weeks ,
- grade 9th – 37 weeks.
An extension of the school year for grades 1-8 may be appointed if specific circumstances hindering educating process have arisen during the school year (e.g. – cold weather, strike, emergency situation in the school etc.). The decision has to be made by the founder.
The school year consists of two semesters (September-December and January-May). Each year, the Cabinet of Ministers issues a regulation on holidays during the school year. Normally there are holidays in every season:
- Autumn holidays last one week,
- Christmas holidays last two weeks,
- Spring holidays last one week,
- Summer holidays last almost three months.
For the 1st class, the school may set an additional week of holidays in the second semester, usually in February.
Organisation the school day and week
Weekly and daily timetable in compulsory schooling is determined in the legislation. The school week lasts 5 days and lessons start between 8 and 9 am. The school day may not exceed:
- 5 lessons in grades 1 to 3;
- 6 lessons in grades 4 to 5;
- 7 lessons in grades 6 to 7;
- 8 lessons in grades 8 to 9.
The number of lessons for each subject is set in weekly periods; also minimum and maximum number of all lessons per week is set by legislation:
- Grade 1 - 22 lessons;
- Grade 2 - 23 lessons;
- Grade 3 - 24 lessons;
- Grade 4 - 26 lessons;
- Grade 5 - 28 lessons;
- Grade 6 - 30 lessons;
- Grade 7 - 32 lessons;
- Grades 8 and 9 - 34 lessons.
Duration of lessons is either 40 or 45 minutes, it is upon the decision of the school head.
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.
There are many schools providing the so-called "prolonged day groups" where pupils usually complete homework and/or (may) stay longer after the lessons are over. Working hours for these groups are settled by the education institution.