Secondary education

High school in Bratislava, Slovakia (Gamča)

Secondary education covers two phases on the International Standard Classification of Education scale. Level 2 or lower secondary education (less common junior secondary education) is considered the second and final phase of basic education, and level 3 (upper) secondary education is the stage before tertiary education. Every country aims to provide basic education, but the systems and terminology remain unique to them. Secondary education typically takes place after six years of primary education and is followed by higher education, vocational education or employment.[1] Like primary education, in most countries secondary education is compulsory, at least until the age of 16. Children typically enter the lower secondary phase around age 11. Compulsory education sometimes extends to age 19.

Since 1989, education has been seen as a basic human right for a child; Article 28, of the Convention on the Rights of the Child states that primary education should be free and compulsory while different forms of secondary education, including general and vocational education, should be available and accessible to every child. The terminology has proved difficult, and there was no universal definition before ISCED divided the period between primary education and university into junior secondary education and upper secondary education.

In classical and medieval times secondary education was provided by the church for the sons of nobility and to boys preparing for universities and the priesthood. As trade required navigational and scientific skills the church reluctantly expanded the curriculum and widened the intake. With the Reformation the state wrestled the control of learning from the church, and with Comenius and John Locke education changed from being repetition of Latin text to building up knowledge in the child. Education was for the few. Up to the middle of the 19th century, secondary schools were organised to satisfy the needs of different social classes with the labouring classes getting 4 years, the merchant class 5 years and the elite getting 7 years. The rights to a secondary education were codified after 1945, and countries are still working to achieve the goal of mandatory and free secondary education for all youth under 19.

Definition

Secondary education is in most countries the phase in the education continuum responsible for the development of the young during their adolescence, the most rapid phase of their physical, mental and emotional growth. It is at this very education level, particularly in its first cycle, where values and attitudes formed at primary school are more firmly ingrained alongside the acquisition of knowledge and skills.

— From UNESCO, Secondary Education Reform: Towards a Convergence of Knowledge Acquisition and Skills Development, 2005[2]

The 1997 International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED) describes seven levels that can be used to compare education internationally. Within a country these can be implemented in different ways, with different age levels and local denominations. The seven levels are:[1]

  • Level 0 – Pre-primary education
  • Level 1 – Primary education or first stage of basic education
  • Level 2 – Lower secondary or second stage of basic education
  • Level 3 – (Upper) secondary education
  • Level 4 – Post-secondary non-tertiary education
  • Level 5 – First stage of tertiary education
  • Level 6 – Second stage of tertiary education

Within this system, Levels 1 and 2 – that is, primary education and lower secondary – together form basic education. Beyond that, national governments may attach the label of secondary education to Levels 2 through 4 together, Levels 2 and 3 together, or Level 2 alone. These level definitions were put together for statistical purposes, and to allow the gathering of comparative data nationally and internationally. They were approved by the UNESCO General Conference at its 29th session in November 1997. Though they may be dated, they do provide a universal set of definitions[1] and remain unchanged in the 2011 update.[3]

The start of lower secondary education is characterised by the transition from the single-class-teacher, who delivers all content to a cohort of pupils, to one where content is delivered by a series of subject specialists. Its educational aim is to complete provision of basic education (thereby completing the delivery of basic skills) and to lay the foundations for lifelong learning.[1]

Lower secondary education is likely to show these criteria:

  • entry after some 6 years of primary education
  • the requirement for more highly qualified teachers teaching only within their specialism
  • exit to Level 3 courses, or vocational education, or employment after 9 or more total years of education.

The end of lower secondary education often coincides with the end of compulsory education in countries where that exists.[1]

(Upper) secondary education starts on the completion of basic education, which also is defined as completion of lower secondary education. The educational focus is varied according to the student's interests and future direction. Education at this level is usually voluntary.

(Upper) secondary education is likely to show these criteria:

  • entry after some 9 years of basic education
  • typical age at entry is between 14 and 16 years
  • all teachers have level 5 qualifications in the subject they are teaching
  • exit to Level 4 or 5 courses or to direct employment.[1]

More subjects may be dropped, and increased specialism occurs. Completion of (upper) secondary education provides the entry requirements to Level 5 tertiary education, the entry requirements to technical or vocational education (Level 4, non tertiary course), or direct entry into the workplace.

In 2012 the ISCED published a further work on education levels where it codified particular paths and redefined the tertiary levels. Lower secondary education and (upper) secondary education could last between 2 and 5 years, and the transition between two often would be when students were allowed some subject choice.[3]

Terminology for secondary schools varies by country, and the exact meaning of any of these varies.[citation needed] Secondary schools may also be called academies, colleges, gymnasiums, high schools, lyceums, middle schools, preparatory schools, sixth-form colleges, upper schools, or vocational schools, among other names. For further information about nomenclature, see the section below by country.