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Secondary education

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Secondary education is the stage of education following primary school. Secondary education is generally the final stage of compulsory education. The next stage of education is usually college or university. Secondary education is characterized by transition from the typically compulsory, comprehensive primary education for minors to the optional, selective tertiary, "post-secondary", or " higher" education (e.g., university, vocational school) for adults. Depending on the system, schools for this period or a part of it may be called secondary schools, high schools, gymnasia, lyceums, middle schools, colleges, vocational schools and preparatory schools, and the exact meaning of any of these varies between the systems.

The exact boundary between primary and secondary education varies from country to country and even within them, but is generally around the fifth to the tenth year of education. Secondary education occurs mainly during the teenage years. In the United States and Canada primary and secondary education together are sometimes referred to as K-12 education.

The purpose of secondary education can be to give common knowledge, to prepare for either higher education or vocational education, or to train directly to a profession.


School is compulsory in Australia between the ages of six and fifteen-seventeen depending on the state, with, in recent years, over three-quarters of students staying on until they are eighteen. Government schools educate about two-thirds of Australian students, with the other third in independent schools, a proportion which is rising in many parts of Australia. Government schools are free although most schools charge what are known as "voluntary" contributions, while independent schools, both religious and secular, charge fees. Regardless of whether a school is government or independent, they are required to adhere to the same curriculum frameworks. Most school students, be they in government or independent school, usually wear uniforms, although there are varying expectations.

United States

As part of education in the United States, secondary education comprises grades 5,6, 7, 8, or 9 through 12. This depends on the school district and how it is comprised. 9th-12th grade is the most common grade structure for high school.

Hong Kong

secondary school (中學, Cantonese:ʤəʊŋ1 hɔk6), college (書院)

Secondary education in Hong Kong is largely based on the British education system. Secondary school starts in the seventh year, or Form One, of formal education, after Primary Six. Students normally spend five years in secondary schools, of which the first three years (Forms One to Three) are free and compulsory like primary education. Forms Four and Five students prepare for the Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination ( HKCEE), which takes place after Form Five. Students obtaining a satisfactory grade will be promoted to Form Six. They then prepare for the Hong Kong Advanced Level Examination ( HKALE) ( colloquially the A-levels), which is to be taken after Form Seven. The HKALE and HKCEE results will be considered by universities for admission. Some secondary schools in Hong Kong are called 'colleges'. In some schools, Form Six and Form Seven are also called Lower Six and Upper Six respectively.

The HKCEE is equivalent to the British GCSE and HKALE is equivalent to the British A-level.

As of October 2004, there has been heated discussion on proposed changes in the education system, which includes (amongst others) reduction of the duration of secondary education from seven years to six years, and merging the two exams HKCEE and HKALE into one exam. The proposed changes will take effect within the next few years.


In India, high school is a grade of education from Standards IX to XII. Standards XI and XII are also called Higher Secondary School or Junior College. Usually, students from ages 14 to 18 study in this section. These schools may be affiliated to national boards like CBSE or various state boards. Education is compulsory until age 14. Most Schools are stand alone units except a few like the Delhi Public School Society which has 125 schools across the country. Most schools are day schools in major cities however, there are some popular residential schools such as the Doon school, Scindia school, Delhi Public School, Pinjore etc.


Secondary education, like primary education is now compulsory in Malaysia. Primary schools run from Year 1 to Year 6 (also known as Standard 1 to 6, for children aged 6+ to 12+), at the end of which they sit for the UPSR ( Ujian Pencapaian Sekolah Rendah or Primary School Assessment Examination). Secondary schools run for seven years, known as Forms 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, Lower 6 and Upper 6. Not all schools offer all forms. Many secondary schools stop at Form 5. Forms 1 to 3 are known as the lower secondary level and at the end of Form 3, pupils sit for the PMR ( Penilaian Menengah Rendah or Lower Secondary Assessment) examination. This replaced the SRP (Sijil Rendah Pelajaran) or LCE (Lower Certificate of Education) where a pass was required for promotion to Form 4. At the end of Form 5, pupils sit for the SPM ( Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia or MCE Malaysia Certificate of Education), equivalent to the O-Level examination. (The label is based on the old British examination known as the 'School Certificate' examination.) At the end of Upper 6, pupils sit for the STPM ( Sijil Tinggi Pelajaran Malaysia, formerly HSC Higher School Certificate). (The label is based on the old British examination, the 'Higher School Certificate', and this name is still used in Australia.) Automatic promotion up to Form 5 has been in place since 1996. They are also known as "Japs."


Lower-secondary education (3 years) is considered part of basic education in Mexico and is compulsory. For entry, students are required to have successfully completed six years of primary education. The next stage, Upper-Secondary Education is non-compulsory and has three pathways: General upper-secondary, Technical professional education, and Technological upper-secondary.

New Zealand

In New Zealand students attend secondary school from Year 9 to Year 13, covering the ages from about 13 to 18. Schooling is compulsory until the student's 15th (with permission) or 16th birthday. In some areas of the country, secondary school is colloquially known as "college". NCEA is the Government-supported school qualification. New Zealand also has intermediate schools, but these cover the last two years of primary education (years 7 and 8) and are not secondary schools.


Secondary school in Pakistan begins from grade 9 and lasts for four years. Upon completion of grade 10, students are expected to take a standardised test administered by a regional 'Board of Intermediate and Secondary Education'. Upon successful completion of this examination, they are awarded a 'Secondary School Certificate' or SSC. This used to be called matriculation certificate or matric for short. Students then enter a college and complete grades 11 and 12. Upon completion of grade 12, they again take a standardised test which is also administered by the regional boards. Upon successful completion of this test, students are awarded the 'Higher Secondary School Certificate' or HSSC. This used to be called the F.Sc./F.A. or 'intermediate'. There are many streams students can choose for their 11 and 12 grades, such as pre-medical, pre-engineering, humanities, social sciences, business, and theology. Some technical streams have recently been introduced for grades 11 and 12. It is important to note that the two subjects 'Pakistan Studies' and 'Islamic Studies' or Islamiyat are compulsory and taught at every level.

Republic of Ireland

In the Republic of Ireland secondary school starts at the age of 12, and lasts five or optionally six years. The main types of secondary school are: community schools, comprehensive schools, colleges, vocational schools and voluntary secondary schools. After three years (age 15-16), every student takes a compulsory state exam known as the Junior Certificate. Typically a student will sit exams in 9-11 subjects; English, Irish and Mathematics are compulsory.

After completing the Junior Certificate, a student may continue for a further two years to take a second state exam, the Leaving Certificate, around age 18. Students typically take 6-8 subjects. Except in exceptional circumstances, subjects taken must include English, Irish and Mathematics. Leaving Certificate results directly determine admission to university via a ranking system managed by the CAO. More than 80% of students who complete the Junior Certificate continue to the Leaving Certificate.

There is an optional year in many secondary schools in Ireland known as Transition year, which some students choose to take after completing the Junior Certificate, but before starting the Leaving Certificate. This year includes no exams, instead focusing on broadening horizons. The year is often structured around student projects such as producing a magazine, charity work, running a small business, etc. Regular classes may be mixed with classes on music, drama, public speaking, etc. Programs vary from school to school.

In addition to the main school system, Ireland has a parallel system of vocational schools, which place less focus on academic subjects. There is also a prominent movement known as Gaelscoileanna where every subject is taught through the Irish Language.


Children attend secondary school for the first 4 levels, followed by either junior college for 2 year courses or centralised institutes for 3-year courses.

Based on results of the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE), Singapore's students undergo secondary education in either the Special, Express, Normal streams or the Integrated Programme which was implemented in 2004. Both the Special and Express are 4-year courses leading up to a Singapore-Cambridge General Certificate of Education (GCE) 'Ordinary' - 'O' level examination. The difference between Special and Express is that the former takes higher Mother Tongue, which can be used as a first language in exams instead of the subject "mother tongue" that Express students take.

The Normal stream is a four-year course leading up to a Singapore-Cambridge GCE "Normal" - "N" level examination, with the possibility of a 5th year followed by a Singapore-Cambridge GCE "Ordinary" - "O" level examination. It is split into "Normal (Academic)" and "Normal (Technical)" where in the latter students take subjects that are technical in nature, such as Design and Technology.

After the second year of a secondary school course, students are typically streamed into a wide range of course combinations, making the total number of subject they have to sit for in "O" level six to ten subjects. This includes science (Physics, Biology and Chemistry), humanities (Elective Geography/History, Pure Geography/History, Social Studies, Literature, etc.) and additional mathematics subject at a higher level, or "combined" subject modules.

Some schools have done away with the O level examination, and pupils only sit for the A level examination or the International Baccalaureate at the end of their sixth year (known as Year 6 or Junior College 2).

Co-curricular activities have become compulsory at the Secondary level, where all pupils must participate in at least one core CCA, and participation is graded together with other things like Leadership throughout the four years of Secondary education, in a scoring system. Competitions are organised so that students can have an objective towards to work, and in the case of musical groups, showcase talents.


In Slovenia, a variety of high-school institutions for secondary education exists one can choose in accordance with his or her interests, abilities and beliefs. The majority of them are public and government-funded, although there are some diocesan upper secondary schools and a Waldorf upper secondary school, which are private and require tuition to be paid.

Upper secondary schools (Sln. gimnazije) are the most elite and the most difficult high-school programmes, intended for the best students that wish to pursue university education in the future. They are further divided into general upper secondary schools, classical upper secondary schools, technical upper secondary schools, upper secondary schools for arts, and upper secondary schools for business. They all last for four years and conclude with a compulsory leaving examination (Sln. matura) that is a prerequsite for studying at universities. Their curricula include a wide range of subjects that should deliver a broad general knowledge.

Technical high schools last for four years and cover a wide range of disciplines. They end with a vocational leaving examination and allow pupils to study at vocational or professional colleges.

Vocational high schools come in two varieties: the dual and in school-based programme. For the former, the apprenticeship is provided by employers, while the practial training for the latter is offered in school. Both of them complete with a final examination. Students may continue their education in the two-year vocational-technical programme (colloquially known as 3+2 programme), which prepares them for vocational leaving exam if they want to pursue higher education.

The leaving exam course is a one-year programme, intended for vocational leaving exam graduates. After completing leaving exam course, they take the leaving examination, which makes the eligible for university education.

The Vocational course is a one-year programme provided to upper secondary school students who, for various reasons, do not want to continue their education. It concludes with a final examinations, qualifying the applicants for a selected occupation.

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom secondary schools offer secondary education covering the later years of schooling. State secondary schools in England and Wales are classed as either (selective) grammar schools, (non-selective) comprehensive schools, city technology colleges or academies. Within Scotland, there are only two types of state-run schools, Roman Catholic or non-denominational. Most secondary schools in England and Wales are comprehensive schools. Grammar schools have been retained in some counties in England. Academies (previously known as city academies) are a new type of school introduced by the current Labour government. Independent secondary schools generally take pupils at 13.

The table below lists the equivalent secondary school year systems used in the United Kingdom:

Scotland England, Wales Northern Ireland Equivalent Ages
Primary 7 Year 7 Year 8 11-12
Secondary 1 Year 8 Year 9 12-13
Secondary 2 Year 9 Year 10 13-14
Secondary 3 Year 10 Year 11 14-15
Secondary 4 Year 11 Year 12 15-16
Secondary 5 Year 12
Lower Sixth AS
First Year College
Year 13 [ Post 16] Lower Sixth 16-17
Secondary 6 Year 13
Upper Sixth A2
Second Year College
Year 14 [Post 16] Upper Sixth 17-18

Private schools in England and Wales generally still refer to years 7-11 as 1st-5th Form.

England, Wales and Northern Ireland

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, students usually transfer from primary school straight to secondary school at age 11. In a few parts of the UK there are middle schools for ages 9 to 13 (similar to American middle schools), and upper schools for ages 13-18. It is uncommon, but sometimes secondary schools (particularly in South West Wales) can also be split into 'Upper' (ages 13-16) and 'Lower' secondary schools (ages 11-13).

Education is compulsory up until the end of year 11 (the last Friday in June in the year a person turns 16), and schooling can continue for a further two years after that. Traditionally the five years of compulsory secondary schooling from ages 11 to 16 were known as "first year" through to "fifth year," (and still are in the private sector) but were renamed in the 1990s to Year 7 through to Year 11 (Year 8 to Year 12 in Northern Ireland) with the coming of the National Curriculum. After Year 11 a student can opt to remain at school, transfer to a college, or to leave education and seek work or to start an apprenticeship. Those who stay at school enter Years 12 and 13 (Years 13 and 14 in Northern Ireland). These years are traditionally known as the Sixth Form ("Lower Sixth" and "Upper Sixth"), and require students to specialise in three to five subjects for their A Levels. In ever-increasing numbers since the 1990s some students also undertake more vocational courses at college such as a BTEC or other such qualification.

This is an unusually specialised curriculum for this age group by international standards, and recently some moves have been made to increase the number of subjects studied. After attaining the relevant A Level qualifications the student can enter university.


In Scotland, students transfer from primary to secondary education at approximately age 12. Pupils usually attend the same secondary school as their peers, as all secondaries have 'intake primaries'. Pupils either attend a Roman Catholic, or non-denominational school according to their or more commonly their parents' beliefs. Pupils in Scotland attend the same secondary school throughout their education; there are no sixth-form colleges in Scotland.

The first and second years of secondary school (abbreviated to S1 and S2) is a continuation of the 5-14 curriculum started in primary school. After which students choose which subjects they wish to study with certain compulsory subjects such as English and mathematics. These are called standard grades and take two years to complete with an exam at the end. After standard grades, some students leave to gain employment or attend further education colleges, however nowadays most students study for Highers, of which five are usually studied. These take a year to complete. After which some students decide to apply for university or stay on for 6th year, where other Highers are gained, or Advanced Highers are studied. Due to the nature of schooling in Scotland, undergraduate honours degree programmes are four years long as in take is normally at the completion of highers in S6 (age 16-17), which compares with three years for the rest of the UK.

Secondary education in other countries

  • Argentina: Secundaria or Polimodal, Escuela secundaria
  • Australia: High school, Secondary college
  • Austria: Gymnasium (Ober- & Unterstufe), Hauptschule, " Höhere Bundeslehranstalt (HBLA), Höhere Technische Lehranstalt (HTL)
  • Bahamas, The: Junior High (grades 7-9), Senior High (grades 10-12)
  • Brazil: Colegial, Segundo Grau (former, but still in use informally); Ensino Médio (official)
  • Bulgaria: Гимназия ( gymnasium), Лицей ( Lyceum)
  • Chile: Enseñanza Media.
  • People's Republic of China (China): zhong xue (中学; literally, middle school), consisting of chu zhong (初中; literally beginning middle) from grades 7 to 9 and gao zhong (高中; literally high middle) from grades 10 to 12
  • Republic of China (Taiwan): Junior High School(國民中學), Senior High School(高級中學), Vocational High School(高級職業中學), Military School(軍校), and Complete High School(完全中學).
  • Canada: high school, secondary school, école secondaire, lycée, collegiate institute
  • Education in Colombia: Bachillerato, Segunda Enseñanza(literally Second Learning)
  • Croatia: srednja škola (literally middle school), gimnazija ( gymnasium)
  • Cyprus: Γυμνάσιο( gymnasium), Ενιαίο Λύκειο ( Lyceum)
  • Czech Republic: střední škola (literally middle school), gymnázium ( gymnasium), střední odborné učiliště
  • Denmark: gymnasium
  • Estonia: Gymnasium, Lyceum
  • Finland: lukio ( Finn.) gymnasium ( Swed.)
  • France: collège (junior), lycée (senior)
  • Germany: Gymnasium, Gesamtschule, Realschule, Hauptschule, Fachoberschule
  • Greece: Γυμνάσιο( gymnasium), Ενιαίο Λύκειο ( Lyceum)
  • Hungary: gimnázium (grammar school), középiskola (comprehensive school, lit. "middle-school"), szakközépiskola (vocational secondary school, lit. "specified middle-school")
  • Iceland: Menntaskóli, Framhaldskóli.
  • India: secondary school
  • Indonesia: Sekolah Lanjutan Tingkat Atas (SLTA), Sekolah Lanjutan Tingkat Pertama (SLTP).
  • Italy: Scuola Media (junior), Liceo (senior).
  • Japan: chūgakkō (中学校; literally middle school), kōtōgakkō (高等学校; literally high school), chūtōkyōikugakkō (中等教育学校; Secondary School) - In the pre- Meiji educational system, the equivalent was called "chūsei"
  • Liechtenstein: gymnasium
  • Lithuania: vidurinė mokykla (literally middle school), gimnazija ( gymnasium)
  • Malaysia: secondary school or sekolah menengah, sometimes high school is used
  • Mexico: Educación secundaria y preparatoria
  • Netherlands: middelbare school or voortgezet onderwijs
  • Norway: Videregående
  • Peru: Educación Secundaria or Escuela Secundaria
  • Poland: gimnazjum (grades 7-9), liceum (grades 10-12)
  • Portugal: 2º Ciclo do Ensino Básico (5th and 6th grades), 3º Ciclo do Ensino Básico (7th to 9th grades), and Ensino Secundário, Liceu (10th to 12th grades)
  • Romania: Liceu
  • Russia: среднее образование ( transliteration: sredneye obrazovaniye)
  • Serbia: gymnasium (4 years), professional schools (4 years), vocational schools (3 years)
  • South Korea: jung hakkyo (중학교; literally middle school), and godeung hakkyo (고등학교; literally high-rank school)
  • Spain: Educación secundaria, composed of two cycles: E.S.O. (Educación Secundaria Obligatoria, compulsory secondary education, 4 years, 7th to 10th grade) and Bachillerato (non-compulsory secondary education, 2 years, 11th and 12th grade); formerly, primary education comprised up to the 8th grade and the secondary education was composed of two non-compulsory cycles: B.U.P. (Bachillerato Unificado Polivalente, 3 years, 9th to 11th grade) and C.O.U. (Curso de Orientación Universitaria, 1 year, 12th grade)
  • Sweden: gymnasium
  • Switzerland: gymnasium, secondary school
  • Turkey: Lise
  • United States: high school (usually grades 9-12 but sometimes 10-12, it is also called senior high school) is always considered secondary education; junior high school' or ' middle school' (6-8, 7-8, 6-9, 7-9 or other variations) are sometimes considered secondary education.
  • Uruguay: Liceo (4 years of compulsory education - Ciclo Básico -, and 2 years of specialitation into humanitites, sciences or biology - Bachillerato diversificado-).
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