Types of Institutions
The general upper secondary education system includes general upper secondary schools, special general upper secondary schools and classes for gifted students where the special curriculum is implemented. General upper secondary education lasts for 4 years and it 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 international schools as well. There are two types of institutions in the general upper secondary education system:
- General upper secondary schools: the most common form of general upper secondary education. These schools can primarily focus on either social or natural sciences or they can equally cover both tracks (a general track). Usually, students in the same general upper secondary school can decide which track they prefer. Some general upper secondary schools have bilingual classes which means that a certain number of lessons is taught in a foreign language.
- Special general upper secondary schools and classes for gifted students: a form of general upper secondary education for students with strong motivation, talents, skills and knowledge in a particular field. Eight fields have been recognised in the education system so far:
- Chemistry and Biology
- Audio-visual Arts
- Geography and History
According to the Law on the Education System Foundations, the criteria for the establishment of the general upper secondary education network are determined by the Government, upon the proposal of the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Policy.
Admission Requirements and Choice of Schools
According to the Bylaw on Upper Secondary Schools Admission, the most important requirement for admission is the completion of basic 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 basic education final exam.
The maximum number of points for this exam is 40 (native Language – 14 points, mathematics – 14 points, a subject chosen by the student – 12 points). According to the Amendments to the Bylaw on the Programme of Final Exam in Basic Education, since the beginning of the 2022/2023 school year, the final exam has had a different structure. It consists of three tests: native language, mathematics and a subject chosen by the student. Students can select one from the list of five subjects: Biology, Geography, History, Physics and Chemistry.
- Achievement in primary school (grades 1 to 8), 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. Specific entrance exams are necessary for admission to schools for the gifted, while general upper secondary schools do not have this exam.
- Achievements at international and national competitions determined in the school curriculum. Only competitions during the 8th grade of primary school count towards upper secondary school admission and points received on this basis are extra points since competitions are optional. At an international competition, a student can earn 12 points for the first place, 10 points for the second place and 8 points for the third place, whereas the first, second and third place at a national competition carry 6, 4 and 2 points respectively.
All students have to submit a list of 20 upper secondary schools they are interested in, ranked by the order of preference. This list can include vocational upper 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 their wish list for which they qualify. Students can choose a school located anywhere in the country, regardless of their place of residence. If admitted to a school in a place other than their 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 learning 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 a smaller number of students in total. Classes in special education upper secondary schools cannot have more than 12 students.
General upper secondary education is usually completed by the age of 19 as it lasts for 4 years.
Organisation of the School Year
A school calendar is issued every year by the Ministry of Education for the following year.
Each grade takes one school year to complete. A school year starts on 1 September and ends on 31 August, with working days for teachers and school staff going beyond these dates. The teaching part of a school year consists of two semesters:
- The first semester starts on the first workday of September and ends one or two workdays prior to 31 December.
- The second semester starts on the workday closest to 20 January and ends on the last workday of the penultimate week in May for the 4th grade students and on the last workday 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 workdays. Final grade students finish the school year earlier in order to prepare for the final and entrance exams. There are 3 breaks during the school year:
- Winter break (between the first and the second semester),
- Spring break (usually 5 workdays around the Orthodox Easter Holiday in April or May),
- Summer break (between the second semester of the ongoing school year and first semester of the following school year).
In addition, there are several one-day or two-day breaks for national or religious holidays, as regulated by the Law on National and Other Holidays.
Traditionally, on 28 June, students from the first to the third grade receive their achievement reports for the completed year/grade, while the fourth-grade students receive their achievement reports and certificates on a date determined each year.
The exact start and end dates of teachers’ school year are determined at an institutional (school) level. As required on the central level, teachers have vacation days as any other employees (a minimum of 20 days per year for novice teachers), 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 for 5 days, from Monday to Friday. A school lesson lasts for 45 minutes (teaching lessons) or 60 minutes (practical lessons). According to the Law on Upper Secondary Education, in general upper secondary schools students can have up to 27 hours of the programme (which includes compulsory subjects, compulsory options/activities) per week. In special education classes, a school lesson may be shorter. One lesson per week is dedicated to classroom meetings when students and their class teacher discuss all current issues or topics of school life.
Lessons’ schedule is determined by the school each year. Most commonly, students in the same grade change shifts every week (one week they have lessons in the morning and next week in the afternoon). However, this may vary from school to school and their individual school programmes. The first morning lesson starts at 8.00 am and the first afternoon lesson starts at 2.00 pm. There is a break between each two consecutive lessons, either a short one (5 minutes) or a long one (10–25 minutes, as determined by the school).
There are several other forms of activities that schools can organise as part of a weekly schedule for some students:
- Additional lessons for students with special skills, talents or interests in particular subjects;
- Supplementary lessons for students who need learning support;
- Preparatory lessons 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.
There are not central regulations about the organisation of a school day and week. It means that the length of school days may vary.