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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Organisation of general lower secondary education


6.Secondary and post-secondary non-tertiary education

6.1Organisation of general lower secondary education

Last update: 27 November 2023

Organisation of General Lower Secondary Education 

Types of institutions

The descriptions provided in this section and subsequent sections on general lower secondary education cover that part of the secondary education cycle falling within compulsory education and are not strictly limited to lower secondary education (which covers the first three years of the secondary cycle). This will ensure clarity of information since students follow one single programme of studies during the five-year secondary education cycle.

Education during the secondary cycle is governed and regulated by the National Curriculum Framework which was launched in February 2013.

Following primary education, during which children attending state schools are in mixed ability co-educational classes, students progress to a five-year secondary school cycle.

In public schools, the secondary cycle is made up of two separate phases. The first phase is of two years’ duration during which students attend Middle Schools. This phase is then followed by a three-year phase during which students move on to Secondary Schools. As from school year 2014/2015, these two phases are provided in a co-educational setting in state schools.

Education in Church Secondary schools is provided in a single-sex setting. On the other hand, most of the Independent Secondary Schools are co-educational. It is usual for schools in the non-state sector to provide education for both the primary and secondary cycles with students moving on from one cycle to the next in the same institution.

There are no pre-vocational or vocational schools at secondary school level. However, students starting their third year of secondary education can opt to follow one or two vocational subject areas.

After completing secondary level education students can opt to move into non-compulsory upper- and post-secondary general educational or vocational institutions.

The following is a schematic diagram of Malta’s education system at ISCED levels 2, 3 and 4 showing the type of education provision available and the responsible entities or institutions:

Sector Responsible Entities ISCED 2 ISCED 3 ISCED 4
Grade 7 Grade 8 Grade 9 Grade 10

Grade 11

General and Vocational Vocational

Education Directorates Middle Schools Secondary Schools GEM16+ Higher Secondary  Schools (general)  
Autonomous State Institutions   Junior College (general); MCAST and ITS (VET) MCAST and ITS
Non-state Sector Church and Independent Schools Secondary Schools Sixth Forms (general)  

Geographical accessibility

State Middle and Secondary Schools receive students from primary schools within the same College of which they form part. Colleges cater for students from within a centrally-defined geographical area. These areas usually include several neighbouring towns and villages to facilitate geographical accessibility and minimise journey times for students.

All students in the secondary cycle are provided with free transport from their locality to the school, with transport being organised at central level. The provision of free school transport to students in the non-state sectors was introduced in September 2018.

Admission requirements and choice of school

As from June 2011, students at the end of the primary cycle sit for the national End-of-Primary Benchmark Assessment which provides a national benchmark of students’ achievement in the core subjects of Maltese, English and mathematics. All state school students sit for this assessment while it is optional for students in the non-state sectors. About 83% of all Grade 6 students sit for the Benchmark Assessment, which is diagnostic in nature rather than selective.

State schools’ students proceed to the Middle School within their College without undergoing any selection based on academic performance. When in Middle and then Secondary School students are grouped in classes on the basis of their choice of foreign language being studied in the secondary education cycle. However, for lessons of Mathematics, Maltese and English students are grouped by academic ability so as to be provided with the type of teaching and learning appropriate to their abilities and needs. For the remaining subjects, students are grouped in mixed ability classes.

Besides the College Middle and Secondary Schools, there are also a secondary school placing special emphasis on sports (established in September 2012) and a Visual and Performing Arts school (established in September 2017). Enrolment into these two schools requires a proven track record of sporting or artistic abilities. In these schools, sports training or artistic practice are given equal importance to an academic education.

Thus, students with a high potential of succeeding in a sporting discipline or in an artistic career are provided with opportunities to specialise from a young age without missing out on normal academic studies.

Age levels and grouping of pupils/students

Students start the five-year secondary cycle when they are 11 years old and end compulsory schooling at age 16.

The Middle Schools programme offers a general curriculum with a set of common core compulsory subjects and one core curriculum option. At the start of the secondary cycle students get to choose one other language to study English and Maltese.

Subsequently at the start of the third year (Grade 9) of the secondary cycle students need to make choices regarding further subjects to take up apart from those available through the compulsory core curriculum. The list of possible curricular options is extensive and includes such subjects or study areas as science, computer studies, the humanities, commerce, VET-related subject areas, environmental subjects and, since September 2019, applied subjects, amongst others.

The maximum class size in the secondary cycle is twenty-six students. Class sizes are smaller for lower ability students. Students are also divided into smaller groups of sixteen or less during Personal, Social and Career Development (PSCD) lessons and for subjects that require workshop/laboratory practical sessions such as biology, chemistry, physics and VET-related subjects.

Students are taught by specialist teachers who are trained to teach a particular subject. Each class is also assigned a Form Teacher who besides teaching her/his subject also oversees the pastoral needs of the students within the class. Students with special educational needs who are integrated into mainstream classes have the support of Learning Support Educators (LSEs).

Organisation of the school year

The central education authorities establish the school time at secondary level. Teachers’ working hours are negotiated with the teachers’ unions. The current collective agreement stipulates that teachers have a maximum of 19.5 teaching hours per week.

The school year runs from the fourth Monday of September to the last week of June for students, with schools being open for half-days during the month of June. The teachers’ school year runs from fourth Monday in September until the 6th of July. The school year is made up of three terms:

  • The first term runs from September until the Christmas recess;
  • The second term runs from the first week of January to the Easter recess;
  • The third term runs from after the Easter holidays until the last week of June.

Schools have a mid-term holiday period of three days in November, a fifteen-day-long Christmas recess, a two-day mid-term holiday period just prior to the beginning of Lent (coinciding with carnival time) and a week-long Easter recess.


Organisation of school day and week

All state and non-state secondary schools operate five days a week from Monday to Friday usually between 08.30 and 14.50 hours. Some variance may occur as to the opening and closing times, however overall a similar weekly and daily timetable is followed. Lessons usually last between 40 minutes (for state schools) and 45 minutes (for non-state schools).

The school day is divided thus:


September to May
  Out-of-hours provision



(starting and finishing

times in the morning)
Lunch Break Lessons

(starting and finishing times in the afternoon)
Out-of-hours provision

(after lessons)
Monday to



08.30 - 10.40

10.55 - 12.55

10.40 - 10.55

12.55 - 13.30

13.30 - 14.50 Available (optional)


During half-days in the month of June, each lesson is of 26 minutes’ duration with timetables in all schools adjusted to reflect this time:      



  Out-of-hours provision


Lessons (starting and finishing

times in the morning)
Lunch Break Lessons

(starting and finishing

times in the morning)
Out-of-hours provision


Monday to

n/a 08.30 - 10.15 10.15 - 10.30 10.30 - 12.15 Available (optional)


In state Middle and Secondary Schools the weekly timetable consists of 40 lessons which are distributed among the different subjects as shown in the table below:

Subject Number of Lessons per week
College Middle Schools College Secondary Schools
Year 7 Year 8 Year 9 Year 10 Year 11
Maltese 5 5 3 4 4
English (first foreign language) 6 6 6 5 5
Second foreign language 4 4 3 3 3
Mathematics 5 5 5 5 5
Religion / Ethics 2 2 2 2 2
Social Studies 1 1 1 1 1
Integrated Science 4 4 - - -
Physics - - 4 4 4
History 2 2 1 1 1
Geography 1 1 1 1 1
Information and Communication Technology 1 1 1 1 1
Physical and Health Education (PHE) 5 * 5 * 3 ** 3 ** 3 **
Expressive Art 2 2 - - -
Personal, Social and Career Education (PSCD) 2 2 2 2 2
Elective subjects offered during the final three years of secondary education (Option 1) - - 4 4 4
Elective subjects offered during the final three years of secondary education (Option 2) - - 4 4 4
Total 40 40 40 40 40

*3 Physical Education (PE) and 2 Home Economics (HE)/Design & Technology (DT) (Resistant Materials & Electronics [RM&E]) on alternate weeks

** 2 PE and 1 HE

During mid-day break students are often involved in activities such as drama, sports, gardening, school cooperative societies, art & craft and other similar activities. Such non-formal educational activities are recorded and accredited in the Secondary School Certificate and Profile (SSC&P) awarded to students at the end of compulsory education. This certificate is pegged with the Malta Qualifications Framework and can be awarded at Introductory Level and Levels 1 to 3.

Generally, no activities are held before the school day. On the other hand, students may voluntarily take part in such school activities as the preparations for concerts, prize giving ceremonies, sports and drama. These activities are also accredited and listed in the SSC&P. Alternatively, students may enrol to participate in Klabb 3-16, a programme managed by the Foundation for Educational Services (FES) that is run after school hours and during school holidays. Participation in this programme is voluntary and against payment.