Types of Institutions
General secondary education in Serbia lasts 4 years and is usually followed by tertiary education, since students, upon completing it, are not qualified for the labour market. While the majority of schools are free public schools, there are some private and foreign schools as well. The general secondary education system includes the following:
- General gymnasiums as the most common form of general secondary education. These schools can primarily focus on either social or natural sciences, or they can equally cover both streamlines (general stream). Usually, students within the same gymnasium can decide which streamline they prefer. Some gymnasiums have bilingual classes, which means that a certain number of classes are taught in a foreign language.
- Secondary schools for the gifted for students with strong motivation, talents, skills and knowledge in a particular field:
- Mathematical gymnasium
- Philological gymnasium
- Gymnasium specialising in Physics
- Gymnasium specialising in ICT Sciences
- Special education secondary schools for students with severe learning difficulties and/or disabilities.
According to the Law on the Education System Foundations, criteria for the establishment of the general secondary education network are determined by the Government, upon the proposal of the Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development and the Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Policy.
Admission Requirements and Choice of Schools
The most important requirement for admission to a secondary school is the completion of primary education. Given that each school has a pre-determined maximum number of students, prospective students have to be ranked. Ranking is based on the following criteria:
- Results of the primary education final exam. The maximum number of points at this exam is 40 (Native Language – 16pts, Mathematics – 16pts, Natural and Social Sciences – 8pts)
- Achievement in primary school, measured by the total of Grade Point Average in the 6th, 7th and 8th grades of primary school, multiplied by 4. The maximum number of points is 60.
- Results of the entrance exam, if such an exam is required by the school. Entrance exams are necessary for admission to schools for the gifted, while general gymnasiums do not have this exam.
- Achievements at international and national contests in school curriculum, organised by the Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development. Only contests during the 8th grade of primary school count towards secondary school admission and points received on this basis are extra points, since contests are optional. At an international contest, a student may earn 20pts for the first place, 18pts for the second place and 14ts for the third place, whereas the first, second and third places at a national contest carry 8, 6 and 4 points respectively.
All students have to submit a list of 20 secondary schools they are interested in, ranked by their choice. This list may include vocational secondary schools. Each student’s results and preferences are then cross-referenced with lists and results of other students. The student is then admitted to the school from his/her preference list where he/she has sufficient points to qualify for.
Students can choose a school located anywhere in the country, regardless of their respective places of residence. If admitted to a school in a place other than his/her hometown, a student can apply for a student dormitory in the town where the school is located.
Age Levels and Grouping of Students
Students usually enter secondary school at the age of 15; therefore grades most commonly include students of the same age. Grades are divided into smaller groups – classes. Each class consists of 30 students at most. In some cases, classes can be divided into smaller groups, according to particular teaching needs. Classes in schools for the gifted include 20-24 students.
A class can include two students with learning difficulties at most and such classes have smaller number of students in total. Classes in special education secondary schools cannot have more than 12 students.
General secondary education is usually completed by the age of 19, as it lasts 4 years.
Organisation of the School Year
A school calendar is issued every year by the Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development for the following year.
Each grade takes one school year to complete. A school year starts on September 1st and ends on August 31st, with working days for teachers and school staff going beyond these dates. The teaching part of a school year consists of two semesters:
- First semester starts on the first work day of September and ends one or two work days prior to 31st of December.
- Second semester starts on the work day closest to 20th of January and ends on the last work day of the penultimate week in May for 4th grade students, and on the last work day of the third week of June for other students.
This schedule is based on a required total of 33/37 work weeks and 165/185 work days. Final grade students finish the school year earlier in order to prepare for final and entrance exams. There are 3 breaks during the school year:
- Winter break (between the first and second semester)
- Spring break (usually 5 work days around Orthodox Easter Holiday in April or May)
- Summer break (between the second semester of the ongoing school year and first semester of the following).
In addition, there are several one or two-day breaks for national or religious holidays, as regulated by the Law on National and Other Holidays.
Traditionally, on 28th of June, students from 1st to 3rd grades receive their achievement reports for the completed year/grade, while 4th grade students receive their achievement reports and certificates on a date established each year.
Exact start and end dates of teachers’ school year are determined at institutional (school) level. As required at central level, teachers have vacation days as any other employees (minimum is 20 days per year for teachers entering the profession), which they have to use during the school holidays. Teachers usually start the school year a few weeks before students (mid-August), and end the school year several weeks after students (mid-July).
Organisation of the School Day and Week
A school week lasts 5 days, from Monday to Friday. A school hour lasts 45 minutes (teaching classes) or 60 minutes (practical classes). In special education classes, school hours may be shorter. Number of school hours may not exceed 31 hours per week (33 hours for students attending classes in a minority language), plus up to 4 hours of optional classes. Within this number of school hours, one hour per week is dedicated to classroom meetings (одељенска заједница), when students and their class teacher discuss all current issues or topics of school life.
A schedule of classes is determined by the school each year. Most commonly, students of the same grade change shifts every week (one week they have classes in the morning, and next in the afternoon). However, this may vary from school to school and their individual school programmes. The first morning class starts at 8:00am and first afternoon class starts at 2:00pm. There is a break between each two consecutive classes, either short (5 minutes) or long (10-25 minutes, as determined by the school).
There are several other forms of activities that schools can organise as part of weekly schedule for some students:
- Additional classes (додатна настава) for students with special skills, talents or interests in particular subjects;
- Supplementary classes (допунска настава) for students who need learning support;
- Preparatory classes (припремна настава) for students who are going to take their graduation exam, grade exam or makeup exam;
- Additional support for students with disabilities, according to their individual education plans.