Types of Institutions
Vocational upper secondary education (ISCED 3) in Serbia lasts for 3 or 4 years and it prepares students for the labour market.
Although the Law on the Education System Foundations states that all students who have graduated from upper secondary education have access to higher education, most commonly this is only the case with students who graduated from 4-year programmes. Those whose upper secondary education lasted for three years have an option to have special access to higher education courses.
Some vocational schools also provide 1-year or 2-year specialisation, apprenticeship and other forms of training (e.g. adult education).
While the majority of schools are free public schools, there are some private ones, as well as international schools. Vocational upper secondary education includes schools that offer education and specialisation in the following fields:
- Agriculture, Food Production and Processing;
- Geodesy and Construction;
- Economics, Law and Administration;
- Natural Sciences and Mathematics;
- Electrical Engineering;
- Textile and Leather Industry;
- Personal Services;
- Mechanical Engineering and Metalworking;
- Health and Social Care;
- Geology, Mining and Metallurgy;
- Forestry and Wood Processing;
- Trade, Hospitality and Tourism;
- Culture, Arts and Public Relations (including music and ballet upper secondary schools for talented students).
According to the Law on Dual Education, students can participate in vocational upper secondary education by attending some educational profiles in a dual education model. They can attend some lessons regularly at school, while the rest of their time is spent in an internship. Internships can take place in one or more different companies. The mutual rights and obligations of students and employers are regulated by a Work-based learning contract concluded by an employer and a student or parent or another student representative. Students have the right to a monthly remuneration of a net amount of at least 70% of the minimum wage in the Republic of Serbia.
The number and spatial distribution of public institutions by type and structure is determined by the Act on the network of public upper secondary schools as defined in the Law on the Education System Foundations. The Government determines the criteria based on which the Act on the network of public upper secondary schools is adopted. The Act on the network of public upper secondary schools is prepared upon the proposal of the Ministry of Education, in accordance with the opinion of district school authorities, the Council for Vocational and Adult Education and the Institute for the Improvement of Education (Centre for Vocational and Adult Education).
The criteria for establishing the network of public upper secondary schools are as follows:
- an equal right to education of all students;
- the availability of upper secondary education and education in general for all students;
- organisation – in a school building only the work of one public upper secondary school is allowed;
- the status – a public upper secondary school must have at least 200 students (12 classes) on condition that at less than 20 km there is no other public upper secondary school with the same educational profile;
- demographic – the projection of student population, the trend of children population growth and migratory movements in the local authorities unit for a period of ten years;
- geographic – the size of the settlement, the distance between neighbouring settlements and the transport connections among them, as well as the specificity of mountains and and border regions;
- optimization – matching the size of the school space and the number of students and maintenance costs with the price of services and the applicable norms.
According to the Act on the network of public upper secondary schools published in 2023, general and vocational upper secondary education programmes are implemented by 522 schools.
Three-year and four-year vocational education programmes and other forms of vocational education are provided by 309 vocational schools and 21 schools for the disadvantaged students and students with disabilities.
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.
Decisions on the right to subsidized or free transport are made by the local authorities, while upper secondary vocational school students attending an educational profile in dual education have a legally guaranteed right to reimbursement of the transport expenses to the place where the work-based learning work is organised.
Teaching can be organized at home or in the form of distance learning.
Distance learning is carried out upon a justified parents’ request for each school year. The school then decides based on the availability of staff, space and material and technical conditions necessary for this kind of education and submits a request to the Ministry for approval.
Admission Requirements and Choice of Schools
The most important requirement for admission to a vocational upper secondary school 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 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 art schools, such as music and ballet schools, while the majority of other vocational schools do not have this exam. Music and ballet upper secondary schools also require the completion of a primary music/ballet school, along with a general primary school.
All students have to submit a list of up to 20 upper secondary schools they are interested in, ranked by the order of preference. This list can include general education 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.
The allocation of students in dual education and work-based learning is conducted in cooperation among a student, a parent (or other legal representative) an employer and a school. The Minister decides on placing students in work-based learning in cooperation with the Serbian Chamber of Commerce.
Age Levels and Grouping of Students
Students usually enter vocational upper 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, although classes can be divided into smaller groups, according to particular learning needs (e.g. for practical classes).
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.
Vocational upper secondary education is usually completed by the age of 18 or 19, as it lasts for 3 or 4 years. However, this is not always the case since these schools offer education for adults or specialisation/prequalification courses for students.
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. The teaching part of a school year consists of two semesters, with working days for teachers and school staff going beyond these dates:
- 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 May for the final (3rd or 4th) grade students. It ends on the last workday of the third week of June for other students.
This schedule is based on a required total of 34/37 work weeks and 170/185 workdays. Work-based learning is implemented between 8 am and –8 pm, six hours a day and 30 hours a week at most.
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 semesters);
- 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 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 in 4-year upper secondary schools and from the first to the second grade in 3-year upper secondary schools receive their achievement reports for the completed year/grade. The final grade students receive their achievement reports and certificates on a date established 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 couple of weeks before students (mid-August) and end the school year several weeks after students (mid-July).
Organisation of the School Day and Week
According to the Law on Upper Secondary Education, the time which should be spent by a student at school is defined in hours and includes compulsory subjects, compulsory options and optional programmes. A school lesson lasts for 45 minutes (teaching lessons) or 60 minutes (practical lessons). In special education classes, a school lesson may be shorter.
In a vocational upper secondary school, the number of school lessons may not exceed 28 hours per week (30 hours for students attending classes in a minority language) plus up to 3 hours of optional programmes. Within this number of school hours, one lesson per week is dedicated to classroom meetings when students and their class teacher discuss all current issues or topics of school life.
A school week lasts for 5 days from Monday to Friday. A schedule of lessons during the school week is determined by the school each year. Most commonly, students of the same grade change shift every week. One week they have classes in the morning and next in the afternoon. This may vary from school to school and their individual school programmes.
There are several other forms of activities that schools can organise as part of weekly schedule for some students:
- Additional classes for students with special skills, talents or interests in particular subjects;
- Supplementary classes for students who need learning support;
- Preparatory classes for students who are going to take their graduation exam, final exam, grade exam or makeup exam;
- Additional support for students with disabilities, according to their individual education plans.